A few years back, Mark Mathews suffered a horror wipeout on a slabby wave in Australia. Dislocated knee, artery transfer, severe nerve damage and docs saying he'll never surf again - read original article HERE.
But as you know, Mark's been back amongst it recently, building up to where he left off. Now, for the first time, Mark's journey has been documented in a new movie, which you can watch below. In light of its release, we caught up with Mark to chat through recovery, how his surfing now and much more in an interview with the legend you can find below the vid.
Talk about the title of this film; what does The Other Side of Fear mean to you?
For me, it’s about exploring what your potential could be on the other side of the limiting fears that you have in your life. So, to put that in context, it’s not necessarily the warranted fears that keep you alive. The majority of fears in our lives deal with rejection, or loneliness, or failure. There are all these fears that hold us back. I think that the other side of fear is exploring what lies on the other side of those limiting beliefs. We don’t need those things to govern our lives.
Take us back to the leg injury – for those who don't know, what happened?
I got smashed into the reef, and when I hit it completely dislocated my knee. It tore every ligament and tendon that holds your knee together. When my knee was separated, and the wave was rolling me around underwater, that pulled through the major artery in my leg. So, I was bleeding internally.
They were able to fix all of that. But what was impossible to fix were the major nerves that control your foot. There was too much damage. And that left me with the disability to use my foot. Originally, it just dangled like a dead limb. But after the final surgery, I was able to get it fixed at 90 degrees. That made it way easier to jump to my feet and surf again.
When we spoke a few years ago, docs thought you wouldn't ever surf again...
Yeah, that’s what they thought. But it was also through their eyes, and kind of a lack of understanding at what surfing is. I thought I’d be able to surf again, but I didn’t think I’d surf anywhere near the level that I was at. When I did get back, I was a full-on beginner. It was extremely frustrating.
And how's your surfing life look like today?
The best thing that happened from this injury was that it opened this door to become a public speaker. Financially, all my income comes from speaking. I don’t have to rely on surfing anymore. It’s such a blessing, which sounds sorta weird. But now, I can just surf waves because I want to do it. It’s so much more enjoyable that way. I’d say I surf at 70 percent of where I was before. If there weren’t these lockdowns right now, I’d be in Hawaii waiting for a magic day at Jaws. I’m confident I can still do it. But the beauty is that I don’t have to do it. I don’t have to put on a performance anymore. It’s just for me and my pure enjoyment.
You’ve also been doing some public speaking since the injury – what’s that been like? As nerve-wracking as surfing big waves?
For me it’s way more nerve-wracking than surfing big waves. That’s because I’m naturally an introvert. That’s like the worst thing you could do as an introvert. [Laughs.] I use a lot of the same tools onstage – the way I manage stress – as what I would use while surfing big waves. That’s helped me get through the experience. The nerves turn into excitement. I was terrified of big waves as a kid, but something switched, and it turned into excitement. You can feed off the fear.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from this film?
There are so many people out there going through tough times. But you have the choice to see the glass half full. I hope that it helps people feel lucky for those things that they do have, and that they can do, instead of dwelling on what they can’t. From that vantage point, you have the best chance of digging yourself out of whatever adversity comes your way.
Cover shot by Andrew Chisholm / Red Bull Content Pool. A version of this story first appeared on Surfline.