“I pulled up over a lump. I knew it wasn't going to barrel or that I wasn't going to out run it, so I just hit the eject button and thought, fuck, I gotta get out of this. Then a whole world of pain happened,” relays Mr Andrew Cotton after one of the most brutal wipeouts seen at Portugal's behemoth wave, Nazare, earlier today.
Cotty's currently laid out in a Portugese hospital after a rumbling, served with extra pep, from Praia do Norte. His l2 vertebrae, located towards the lower end of the spinal column, is broken.
But he's in surprisingly high spirits when he picks up the phone for a check in with MSW about this morning's events. “Feeling pretty sore eh,” he laughs. “I just don't know what happened. Well, actually I do. I faded too deep, thought I was going to pull in and it didn't really barrel. I jumped off my board, I very rarely do that.
“I'm a strong believer of riding those sorts of thing out. But, I've no idea why I did that. Yet, I think that's probably what saved my legs or ankles.”
The exploits and accomplishments by Cotty at Nazre are well known. From growing up surfing along the coast of Devon in the UK, how he used to split his time between working as a plumber and charging colossal waves at Portugal - and of course, eventually snagging one of the biggest ever ridden just a few years back in 2014.
Earlier today, Cotty was out with tow partner Hugo Vau, filming for a documentary about Garrett McNamara's return to big wave surfing. Prior to the flogging, he'd caught a couple of gems, one offered up to the WSL's Big Wave Awards, trying to maximise time in the water before the wind kicked up.
“I was feeling good actually,” he says. “Frothing this morning, maybe a bit too frothing. It was the best I've seen it for ages, I've got two new boards that I am loving. Everything's dialled at the minute, maybe I was bit too confident, I don't know.
“I caught two waves first thing then Hugo [Vau] and I swapped and swapped back, and the wind was getting up, it was pretty bumpy. Garrett saw this one and it was a little bit inside, as soon as I took off it was actually smoother.
I saw it bowling and thought, I can go a little bit more and maybe tuck up and get in the pocket And because it was so smooth I thought, oh I can fade on this one and actually get a bottom turn in. I saw it bowling and thought, I can go a little bit more and maybe tuck up and get in the pocket.
“As I bottom turned, I looked up and saw it was going to crumble, and 15-20ft down the line it was already feathering. I pulled up over a lump and then it was that split second when I was mid-face, I knew it wasn't going to barrel or that I wasn't going to out run it, so I just hit the eject button and thought, fuck, I gotta get out of this. Then a whole world of pain happened.”
But as the video can attest, this wasn't going to be a free ride. Yet, somehow, after a split second of impact, Cotty felt like he was floating.
“I thought, woah, that's weird this shouldn't be happening,” he says. “And then it was just like being hit by a lorry, straight to my back.
“I think I landed on my back in the flats and then got mowed by the white water. Obviously pulled my vest and Hugo came to get me. But I missed the sled, I was in so much pain, I couldn't move. Went through the white water, again. Hugo came around again and got me.
“I don't think he realised I was so hurt, he tried to pull a 180 to try and get back out and then we got caught with one of those 45-degree angle waves, flipped the ski and then I just... floated in [laughs]. Ski was up the beach but Hugo got me 95 per cent of the way in, so that was good.”
There's no doubt about the heaviness of the scenario. When asked about the damage, Cotty says: “I've broken my l2 vertebrae, but it's stable and it could be way worse. The guys on the beach and Hugo were so on it. Nazare puts lifeguards on north beach now during big swells and they don't have to do that. They got me out of the water, stabilised me, cut my suit off, just made it so much easier. They saved my back. I am super lucky.
“I'm going to be in hospital over night, I'm still laying down and I can't move. They're going to strap me with some sort of chest belt to help me walk. But it's all part of it.
“Gotta thank Hugo and Garrett for helping me out and everyone who played a part – all of them were calm. And the local council at Nazare who have supported me and support surfing. It won't be long, I'll be back out there, hopefully before the tail end of the season.”
Amen to that, here's hoping for a speedy recovery for Cotty and to see him back at Nazare soon.
Cover by Helio Antonio, the wave that took Cotty down.