Jamie Mitchell on Competing with a Broken Sternum

Matt Rott

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Updated 53d ago

Jamie Mitchell is at a pivotal point in his life. Already established as the greatest paddler of all time, he has now successfully transitioned into a big wave surfing career.

He placed second and first in the last two tour events at Puerto Escondido and Nazare respectively (despite surfing with a broken sternum at Puerto Escondido), took first and second at the past two Big Wave Awards in the Performer of the Year category, and is rated second in the world coming into the back half of the 2017/18 season.

At 40-years-old, he owns his own paddleboard company, has a deck full of sponsors, and is happily established on the North Shore of Oahu with his partner Cassie and their two-year-old daughter. And in a few days, Cassie is due to give birth to the couple’s second child.

Despite the fact that he is out of the water rehabbing a major injury, Jamie has just about every thing he could want in life, barring a world championship trophy—which is a very real possibility by season’s end.

But a career like Jamie’s isn’t built on warm fuzzies. Instead, it’s a product of hard work, a willingness to tolerate physical and mental suffering, and more scary moments than most people experience in a lifetime.

Jamie's a regular at Mavericks.

Jamie's a regular at Mavericks.

© 2017 - Triple Point Expeditions// Tucker Patton

After a rigorous mountain bike ride up Pupukea, I sat down with Jamie to talk about his recent decision to compete with a caved-in chest, the possibility of adding Mavs to the tour schedule, and his aspirations for a big wave world title.

That was a pretty radical decision to compete at Puerto with a freshly broken sternum. What sort of thought process went into that decision?
It was a tough decision. If you asked any doctor, they were all saying not to do it. But I feel like I have really good gauge on my body and what it can do.

Leading up to that week…the contest was on a Monday, and a week before it looked like the event might run, and I spoke with Cassie and she really didn’t want me to surf.

She’s never said that in her life to me, she’s always trusted my judgment, but I understood where she was coming from this time, because I’d been in a hyperbaric chamber every day for three weeks, struggling through rehab.

But I had started swimming that week (two weeks post-injury), and I was feeling okay enough that I thought, “Well, in another week my body could recover more, and maybe I will be ready.” I knew that if I didn’t surf, there was no chance of winning the world title this yearSo I told Cassie to just give me four or five days to see how I felt. I was still doing rehab and swimming, and Cassie made me do some pushups to see if I could even get up on my board.

I spoke to my orthopedic surgeon with Cassie on the phone, and we went through all the scenarios. And then we had a real heart-to-heart, and I told her the reasons why I wanted to do it, and why I thought I could do it.

She brought up counterpoints, and we discussed it like any husband and wife would do. And we eventually decided that I would go to Puerto and see how I felt on the day, and if I felt up to it, I’d surf. And as it turned out, I did.

When Hercules met Belharra.

When Hercules met Belharra.

© 2017 - Alex Laurel

I wanted to give myself every chance this year. You know, I worked really hard to get where I am on this tour, and I just turned 40, so I know I don’t have another 15 years like the young kids. But I was coming off of a win at the last event that ran (at Nazare) and felt like I had momentum, and I wanted to keep that going.

I knew that if I didn’t surf, there was no chance of winning the world title this year. Not that that is the only thing that matters, but I really wanted to make a push for that, and knew that getting through a few heats would be really important for points.

So I knew the risks versus the rewards, and did the math in my head, and then listened to my heart, and my gut feeling said that I could go out and pull it off. I knew that if I reinjured it, apart from a direct hit to my sternum (which would have been a fluke thing), I was only going to put myself back a few weeks at the worst.

I knew I had until October 15 to recover before the opening of the northern hemisphere season, so it wasn’t just a crazy last-minute decision.

I really delved into it and dissected it. And it was obviously really painful, and I knew I was going to be in a lot of pain, and put myself back as far as rehab goes, but was that worth it? Was it worth it? Definitely. I made the final and took second Definitely. I made the final and took second, and maybe only put myself back a week or two in terms of rehab. It could have gone the other way, and I knew that going into it, but it didn’t. I just went with my gut feeling, and ended up pulling it off.

You certainly did. You have a lot of momentum coming off of two major results in the last two events, and are second in the ratings with potentially two events left in the season. You must be looking forward to Nazare and Jaws, and hoping for a shot at the world title.
Yeah, definitely. You know, I still have some underlying issues with my sternum at the moment. I am doing some light swimming, some mountain bike riding, and some yoga. I can’t do much cardio at the moment, due to a weird feeling in my chest that is taking longer than I thought to get to 100 per cent.

So I’m still limited in what I can do, but mentally I feel really good. We have another baby due any day, which will inspire me. And I feel good. I feel like I am in the hunt. Nazare and Jaws waiting periods start October 15.

Nazare tends to get the best swells in October and November, so hopefully that goes. And hopefully we get one of those early season Jaws swells and that can run too, and we can battle it out in three events and crown a champ.

Jamie and his family at the WSL Big Wave Awards.

Jamie and his family at the WSL Big Wave Awards.

© 2017 - WSL

The way I see it, the more events the better. Obviously we can’t sacrifice the integrity of the tour by running in sub-par conditions or small waves at Jaws or Nazare, but 15-20 foot at those venues is crazy.

So I feel like we will get at least one of those events, if not both. And then with the WSL announcing the potential of Mavericks this winter—that would be a huge boost for us as well.

I’m excited, and I just hope we run as many events as we can, and we get a couple of big, clean swells so we can go out and do our thing.

Thanks Jamie. That’s what we are hoping for too. Good luck with your recovery and the birth of your baby. We look forward to seeing you back in the water soon.


Matt Rott

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