Jamie Mitchell went crazy in Nazare – until he broke his back

By Matt Rode

As we’ve well documented, Nazare pumped it up last week, with all sorts of heroic rides and rescues. Jamie Mitchell arguably made the most of it, paddling in one of the biggest waves of the week before placing 2nd in the individual and team competitions at the TUDOR Nazare Tow Surfing Challenge. But there is a price of admission to the biggest wave in the world, and with two minutes remaining in his second run, Jamie ended up paying it when he packed a barrel beast and broke his back.

Fortunately, he is fine. After a few days in the hospital, Jamie is safe in his Airbnb, able to walk and wait for his spine specialist in Nazare to give him the all-clear to return home to his family. We caught up with him to discuss the swell, the event and his injury.

Video of Mitchell’s accident. Video: Tim Bonython

Surfline: Glad to hear that you are (relatively speaking) well after your accident in Nazare. Tell us how you ended up in Portugal. Did you have to do the WSL competition?

No not at all. In fact, I had no intention of coming to Portugal this year. But the season in Hawaii has been quite slow in terms of giant swells – there have been lots of good waves, but not many big days. And my friend from Australia, Clint Kimmins – who is an excellent waterman, lifeguard and semi-professional triathlete – was in Barcelona training on the bike, and he called me to find out what I thought of the forecast for Nazare . And the same day, Jojo Roper called to see if I wanted to go. So, I took a look and the forecast looked really good for the week – five days of swell and light winds. Jojo and I met in Newark and flew together.

Mitchell on Tuesday, the “smallest” day. Photo: Vitor Estrelinha

We actually didn’t surf the first day, Monday, because we couldn’t find a safety ski and didn’t want to push it. But Tuesday was beautiful – good conditions and a 12-15 foot Hawaiian. Wednesday was weird, because it started out about the same size, but we knew it was going to get huge by noon. From the time we watched it from the top of the hill to the time we entered the water 90 minutes later, it had doubled in size from 25-30 foot faces to 50-foot faces. at 60 feet. We knew it was borderline trying to paddle – we were the only crew and it was actually quite scary – but Jojo, Clint and I gave it a try and took turns racing safely on the ski. I had a few smaller ones and then one that seemed really big. At that point a few tow crews started coming out and it kind of turned into a tow day.

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You had a pretty good run in the tow event, didn’t you?

I wasn’t really scheduled to enter the tow contest, but all week the forecast kept getting bigger and I figured I was there to surf, so if I could enter the event, I might as well be there. A number of teams couldn’t make it, so there was room for the event, and I ended up teaming up with Rafa Tapia.

First round bomb in the towing event. Photo: Masurel/WSL

Going into our final heat, we were 2nd for the team competition and I was also 2nd in the individual event. I knew I had to do something special to try and catch Chumbo, and with two minutes remaining in the heat, Rafa whipped me into a gnarly. It was a big wave and lots of hills, but I figured I needed a barrel or at least a deep pocket to get the score, so I took a pretty aggressive line and I fired. me and completely compressed me into my board.

I immediately felt like my back was broken. I was seeing stars when I arrived and it hurt so bad. The rescue ski caught me and I was sitting on the ski trying to see if I was okay and if I could try to catch another wave, but I knew pretty quickly that I was done. The ski took me to the port and I went straight to an ambulance and to the hospital, where I finally discovered that I had a compression fracture of my L3 vertebrae.

Watch the replay of the event

A close view of the moment before impact. Photo: Masurel/WSL

Nazare’s security crews are known to be some of the best in the business, and they picked you up and drove you to the beach quickly. What happened once in the hospital?.

In fact, my stay in the hospital was probably the worst part of the experience, with the language barrier and all. I was placed in this kind of COVID-style emergency room with 60 other patients. I didn’t have an X-ray for six hours, didn’t see a doctor for 10 hours, and didn’t have a CT scan until 2 a.m. the next morning. Thank goodness for Jojo and Clint! They were there to help me, trying to get all the information, but it wasn’t a very good night. I was happy when I got out of the hospital and went back to my room where I could take care of things myself.

What is your prognosis – do you expect any long term problems from this injury?

Well, Cassie and the family back home were pretty worried that I was going to have some long term stuff, but when I saw the specialist two days ago and had my MRI, he told me Said I was super lucky and it could have been worse. I will have to wear a brace for a few weeks, but eventually I should be back to 100%. Once I get cleared to fly, I’ll be heading to Orange County to see my specialist, then heading home asap and spending time recuperating with family and hanging out with my daughters!

How long do you think you will be out of the water?

It’s hard to say. Being in another country, the language barrier was a difficult thing. From what I can gather from the research I’ve done and what the spine specialist told me the other day… Two months. But I was talking to Cotty – and beware, his injury was worse than mine – and he said it took nine months before he could surf anything major. But until I get home and talk to the doctors I trust — who’ve seen a million different sports injuries and who know me and my body — I don’t know. I hope a few months. So, all things considered, it could have been much worse.

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