Ricky Whitlock on returning to big wave surfing after breaking his back at Pipeline earlier in the year…
I was in Puerto for about a month and in that time there were two really big swells. The first one was big, and then as the swell was fading away I checked the charts and saw an even bigger swell coming. It was still a ways out so I figured that it would downgrade before it got to Puerto. But when the swell showed up it did not disappoint. It was HUGE! It was consistently 15 feet with a few 20 footers. It was definitely the biggest surf I’ve ever surfed. It was the best feeling in the world. Adrenaline going nuts, blood boiling, and heart pounding out of your chest kind of surfing. So when the wave comes and you’re in the spot, you HAVE to go! Especially with Greg Long, Kohl Christensen, Gabriel Villaran and other big wave chargers yelling “Go”! (And just to add to all of that I bruised my ribs the day before getting pitched by one that I thought I was in) Those same guys that I mentioned were the guys getting the biggest and best waves. Will Dillon, who is from the States but now calls Puerto home, was also right there in the mix with them. Greg got one of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen down there, Gabrielle got one of the biggest barrels I’ve ever seen, and Kohl got one of the worst wipeouts I’ve ever seen in person. After seeing how hard those guys were charging I was just stoked to squeeze into a few waves.
I ended up getting caught inside by a big one and instantly it snapped my board and leash. As I came up after the last wave of the set, I looked around and everyone else was fine sitting on their boards. My first thought was to start swimming towards the harbor but right then Greg yelled “Hey Ricky, you have a pretty big gap if you want to swim in!” Right when he said that I knew he was testing me. And right away I thought, “Damn it! Here I go!” and without questioning or hesitating I started swimming in. As fast as I could but not as hard as I could so I wouldn’t waste any energy in case I got caught inside. Sure enough, just as I was getting close to the beach, I started going backwards and sucked right back into the impact zone of the next set. Wave after wave, I got them on the head. Slammed to the bottom then spit right back out the back into the impact zone of the next one. It took all my focus not to let myself get frustrated and panic and lose energy. Finally the waves pushed me in far enough to where I could touch and I snuck in before the next set. I guess the lifeguards didn’t think I was going to make it cause they got the skis out to save me after watching my beatings. After that I went back to the house and rested and then borrowed Jensen Hassett’s board and went back out for the evening session and redeemed myself with a big right. At the end of the day a group of us went to dinner and the table was stacked. Greg Long, Danilo Couto, Kohl Christenson, Jamie Sterling and a few others. I still couldn’t stop thinking about if Greg was testing me or not but then he proved me right by saying, “Good swim, I’m gonna have to sign you up for the 2016 Olympics.” I didn’t show it at the time but to have him say that made me feel honored.
Since I’ve been back in the water from my back injury all I’ve wanted to do is redeem myself and get barreled and surf big waves. Puerto couldn’t have been a better call. Not only did I get all that but I never expected to get the waves I did. Ones I made and also the wipeouts which helped me even more than the ones I made because it got my injury jitters to go away. I’ve always liked surfing big waves but now after those swells and also having the backing from Fox to be able to travel and chase waves again, you can count on seeing me a lot more in big waves. I had an epiphany after my injury and after almost having everything taken away from me; this is what I want to do. The southern hemisphere is blowing up right now so it looks like I’ll be heading back down to Puerto to try and better the waves I got the last couple swells.—Ricky Whitlock