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What It Feels Like To Get Rolled By A 60 Footer

With Jamie Mitchell

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Two kilometres off the port of Belharra in the French Basque country, Jamie Mitchell paddled into the biggest wave of his life. While valiant in his efforts and showing his complete disregard for actually being here on this Earth he came unstuck below the cascading lip. Here, Mitchell describes falling on the wave that Shane Dorian called 60-foot…

Most of us have had that feeling when you’re out in the water and you know a wave is coming just for you. That’s exactly how it was for me when this wave began growing out of the horizon. Shane Dorian was outside me, Twiggy Baker was inside me but I had this sense I was in the perfect spot.

I swung, put my head down and started paddling, paddling, paddling. I didn’t look back but I clearly remember the lift of the wave under my 11-footer. Twiggy was paddling up the face screaming, “GO! GO!” I was committed. In what seemed like a split second I found myself at the top of the wave, right in the lip. The swell was moving at incredible speed and the wind was ferocious but I got to my feet.

For those next few seconds I was completely in the moment and surfing that wave. My eyes were focused on a 10-foot radius around the nose of my board because in those types of conditions you’re trying to chip-shot into the bumps on the face. I wasn’t looking down the line, or at the size of the wave, I was just focused on where I was going. I remember hitting three big chops. The first one I got through. I felt the impact and compressed into it. The second bump was bigger and threw me slightly off balance. When I hit the third one I knew I was toast. It bounced me and that was that. The ride was over and the beating was about to begin.

Cold water on impact feels like concrete. My first point of contact with the water was on my butt and I knew I wasn’t going to penetrate at all. I slid down the face like it was made of ice, spinning until I found myself going backwards and looking back up into the barrel as it was coming over me. I knew I had to get a last breath in before getting sucked over. I timed it pretty well because the next thing I was weightless in the lip and ready for a major pounding.

When the moment came it felt like I was in the middle of a warzone. My body got blasted by these huge underwater explosions. The sound was like being in a tunnel with a speeding train. The violence of the wave was astounding but I knew I’d be ok if I stayed relaxed. I could sense I wasn’t deep because I didn’t have to equalize my ears and there was never a moment when I felt like I needed more air.

When I broke the surface I thought I’d killed it, then I saw the next wave. I was just a head bobbing in the ocean and the whitewater coming at me was so big it was connecting to the sky. It looked like an avalanche.

When it hit me it pushed me straight down. It wasn’t quite as violent but I was a lot further under. It pushed and pulled me and it was darker and more muffled than the previous wave. I started thinking, I’ve been down here long time, there better not be another one.

Usually I don’t swim much when I’m held under, I like to be calm and let Mother Nature do her thing but on this occasion I decided it was time to get to the surface.  When I finally broke through I was relieved to see there was only a medium-sized one coming at me. I punched through that then got picked up by the ski.

I wasn’t seeing stars or anything but I was getting a bit of oxygen deprivation and had tingling in my legs. I was fully coherent and focused and my eyes were clear. I went back out with so much adrenalin in my body but you have to be careful not to do anything stupid. You have to take a break and wind down. That wave was definitely the most intense wave I’ve ever paddled into… and the biggest.

Surfing World
Surfing World

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