If you can’t have a spectacular ride, have a spectacular wipeout. It’s good for the sport.” Truer words were never spoken. Those words, in particular, were spoken by Martin Potter, a man who knows a thing or two about spectacular wipeouts. In fact, he’s the proud owner of one of the world’s worst surfing injuries.
Wipeouts can actually be pretty funny. Getting tossed around in a blacked out washing machine while sand works its way into every orifice is surprisingly fun. Most of the time, surfers come up sputtering and laughing, quick to paddle out and have another go.
But sometimes things go wrong, especially when boundaries are being pushed. And sometimes, they go horribly wrong. Surfboard up the butt kind of wrong. Guts spilling out kind of wrong. Over the years, there have been quite a few of those moments, but a few really stand out from the pack. We’ll start with Keala Kennelly.
1. Keala Kennelly’s face: Back in 2011, Keala Kennelly showed up in Tahiti, amping on a swell that hasn’t yet been forgotten. She has a lot of experience with Teahupoo in particular – she’s won three events there, making her the most successful female surfer at the venue. So no one was surprised when she wound up towing into some of the throatiest waves of the day during that mega-swell. What was surprising, however, was the amount of damage she suffered to the right side of her face a few days later. In completely average Chopes conditions, Kennelly pulled into a barrel similar to ones she’d made countless times before. After making the drop, she whipped a quick bottom turn and parked it in a decent sized tube. As she was about to escape, the lip hit her in the head and drove her face first into Teahupoo’s razor sharp reef. When she came up, she didn’t know how bad it was, until she was picked up by the ski. She headed to the hospital, where they stitched up most of her face – 51 stitches were required to close everything up, everywhere from the top of her head down to her chin.
2. Joel Parkinson’s foot: Parko is a regular face out at Snapper Rocks. There might not be anyone who has quite perfected the behind-the-rocks take off like him. But on one particular day in 2010, things did not go as planned. It was a good day at Snapper – one of those days with dredging barrels, steep drops, and spitting tubes. In the middle of a pretty spectacular session, even by Parko’s standards, he pulled into a deep one and didn’t quite make it out. He assumes the foamball must’ve taken him out, and he felt the board hit his foot. Andy Irons happened to be in the water with him that day, and helped him to the beach. Once there, I can only assume that onlookers quickly began gagging at the sight of Parko’s heel, which was nearly sliced off. His tendons and muscles were cut all the way through, and it took six weeks of painful rehab and a couple of stints in a hyperbaric chamber before he was able to even “toe-crawl,” as he called it. The video below shows the wave. It’s a good one. Not worth it.
3. CJ Hobgood’s foot:I’m not sure whether CJ’s foot injury is worse or better than Joel Parkinson’s. Either way, they’re both disgusting. Before the event in Portugal this year, CJ accidentally kicked the living shit out of his fin. Unfortunately for CJ, his tender foot flesh didn’t stand up to the test, and opened up like a Walmart in a small town. “It’s not even about the stitches,” he said. “It’s cut from the top to the bottom. You could stick your whole hand in it.” CJ’s war wound is still in the healing stages, so we’ll see how things turn out. Here’s hoping we’ll see him at Pipe!
Tom Carroll years after sharing a cell with a fin. Photo: ASP/Robertson
4. Tom Carroll’s butt:In 1987, Tommy C was in Niijima Beach, Japan for a contest. Before the contest got under way, the surfing Hall of Famer found himself in the shorebreak, where his board stuck in the sand, nose first.Since it’s difficult to continue surfing when your board is stuck in the sand, Carroll wound up falling off it, and in the worst possible way. One of his fins found its way up his butt, and not just a little ways up there. Thirteen stitches were necessary to close things up, and only five of those were on the outside, if you get my drift. But that wasn’t the end of it, not by a long shot. According to rumor, Japanese doctors gave him an antiseptic agent that wasn’t supposed to be applied directly to the skin at full strength. Since Tom didn’t speak Japanese and couldn’t read the instructions, he proceeded to dump it all over himself, and promptly found his balls literally blistering.
Derek Hynd years after his accident. Didn’t hurt his surfing a bit. Photo: Jamie Brisick
5. Derek Hynd’s eyeball: Derek Hynd is a legend. On the tour for a few years in the late ‘70s, he became much better known for his stylistic, brash surf writing and later, his finless antics at J-Bay. In 1980, at the Hang Ten Pro in Durban, South Africa, Hynd suffered a horrendous injury on a seemingly innocuous wave. After kicking out, his board bounced back on its leash, and the fin struck him in the right eye. Although doctors first decided it would be best to remove what was left of it, they eventually sewed it back up, hoping to restore some of his vision. It didn’t work, and Derek was left with one working eye. That didn’t stop him from competing, though. In 1980, he was rated number twelve in the world. At the end of the next year, minus a right eye, Hynd finished at number seven.
Potts, 1985. Well before he knew what his insides looked like, he was doing airs like these. Photo: Art Brewer
Martin Potter’s intestines:If there is one thing in this life that is for certain, it is that your intestines are not supposed to hang out of your stomach. Potts can attest. Known for both his ahead-of-times aerials and his staunch refusal to participate in in South African events in 1985 in a protest against apartheid, in 1997, Potter pulled into a tube section at Burleigh Heads. It wasn’t a giant wave, by any means – around five feet. Potter didn’t make it out, fell forward, and the nose of his board stabbed through left side of his stomach. While being stabbed in the guts is pretty bad, it gets worse: the front six inches of board actually broke off in his stomach. The gash was so deep that his intestines protruded out of it. After three months and forty stitches, Potts was finally able to return to the water.