Mark Mathews on Horror Injury: I Refuse to Believe That I Won’t Surf Again

Jason Lock

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Updated 240d ago

Towards the tail end of last year, big wave aficionado Mark Mathews suffered a horror wipeout surfing a slabby right hander in Australia.

The diagnosis: a dislocated knee, an artery transfer, nerve damage and docs telling Mark it's looking like he won't ever surf again.

But that isn't stopping Mark from trying. The Aussie charger's in rehab right now, hoping to get back in the water sometime towards the end of this year. We caught up with Mark to see what went down and what is next.

Last year, you suffered a horror wipeout. Can you talk us through what happened?
MM: I was surfing down the south coast about four hours outside of Sydney at a really shallow right hand slab. It was solid 6ft on the sets. I was trying to get a double barrel with photographer Leroy Bellet. We towed into a set that was too big for how low tide it was and the wave crumbled off the back of the reef.

I jumped early to try and break through the back, but the wave grabbed me and drove me into the reef. I landed feet first with all my weight on my right leg and as soon soon as I hit, I felt a massive pop in my knee. Leroy, who was behind me, was kind of lucky because the wave barrelled where he was so he could pull in and avoid the lip.

Sounds heavy. What's the extent of the injury?
 I dislocated my knee tearing the ACL, LCL and PCL ligaments. I also tore my artery and nerve and fractured my shin. 

When you wiped out, when did you realise something was wrong?
Yeah, straight away I knew it was bad. I was screaming out, not in pain but more out of frustration. I knew I was going to be out of the water for a long time. And I had only just started surfing again after being out of the water for 9 months with a shoulder injury. 

The wave that clipped Mark's big wave wings, with Leroy Bellet behind capturing the action. Hopefully he'll be back in the water by the end of the year. But what he surfs may all change.

The wave that clipped Mark's big wave wings, with Leroy Bellet behind capturing the action. Hopefully he'll be back in the water by the end of the year. But what he surfs may all change.

And what was the sequence of events that happened after?
I climbed up on to the back of the ski and the boys took me into the beach and laid me on the sand. My leg started swelling like a balloon. I laid there for 40min waiting for the ambulance to arrive. When they got there they gave me ketamine for the pain. It's a crazy psychedelic drug so I basically went off to another planet, no pain at all.

Next thing I knew I woke up in a helicopter in a full body brace. I started freaking out because I thought I had broken my neck. but the docs reassured me it was just my leg.  

Where were you treated and what did the docs say about it afterwards?
The first op was an artery transfer. And after the surgery the doc came out and told my girl he was sure I would keep my leg. We had to wait and see over the next few days if the artery transfer worked. Luckily it did!

For years, Mark's name has been synonymous with the Right.

What happens to your head space then? Was it a more, this has happened, how can I make it work? Or more a real holy shit moment?
I was pretty rattled for a while, because the docs were saying, with that kind of nerve damage, I wouldn’t be able to surf any more.  And I'd have to wear  a brace on my foot to walk from now on. It's a weird feeling hearing that your disability can’t be fixed. You go into hospital always thinking they can fix everything. 

It's tough every morning waking up with the injury, wishing it never happened. But I just stop myself and think how bad it could have been. I could have broken my neck. I’m lucky to not be in a wheel chair.

Your injury was kind of low key for a while - was that so you can focus on revovery?
Yeah, I just wanted to understand the full extent of the injury.

So, what's the plan now?
I’m taking it day by day, doing as much rehab as possible. I refuse to believe I won’t surf again. I may not surf how I did before but I will surf.

The clip (view above) you've sent through is pretty motivational - how's the recovery period?
I'm hoping to be trying to stand up on a board again before the end of the year. Then I'll just see where it goes from there. I don’t believe I have ridden my last big barrels, even if it takes me years, I'll still get myself another big pit one day!

Mark Mathews stepping on the back foot break ensuring more tunnel time at Cape Solander a few years back.

Mark Mathews stepping on the back foot break ensuring more tunnel time at Cape Solander a few years back.

© 2017 - Photo Craig Stroh/The Perfect Wave

Are you doing any specific exercises to help with recovery?
 Lots of physio, yoga, foundation training. I've even just started riding a lid because using flippers is really good rehab. 

I think I saw that you've fashioned a leg brace to help out?
Yeah the guys at POD built me an awesome knee brace to wear in the water and they are going to build a custom one for my foot down the track to help with the disability I have from the nerve damage. (I can’t lift my foot up anymore) it's called Drop Foot.

How important is it to keep a support network around you when going through injuries like this?
A good support group is the secret ingredient to everything! It's hard to be motivated and positive all the time. My girlfriend Britt Jones has been so amazing through the whole process. 

What sort of advice/words of wisdom would you give to people who are undergoing the same sort of injury?
Just take it day by day. And do the rehab work, even when if feels like its doing nothing you have to stick at it.