Andrew Cotton is one of the toughest blokes you'll ever meet. The 36-year-old from Croyde, England, is a father of two and a plumber by trade, but he's established quite a remarkable connection to Nazaré, Portugal, in recent years. So much so that he's become an international big-wave star. But while surfing some of those huge monsters on Wednesday, Cotton endured one of the most horrific-looking wipeouts in recent memory.
Everything looked good early on, as he descended down the face of a giant 60-foot mountain of water. Cotton was surfing with his back to the wall as he leaned into an extended bottom turn. Only after he made the turn and started drifting back up the wave face did he realize his predicament: the massive lip bearing down from above was coming right at him.
In a last-ditch effort to avoid the impact zone, he bailed backwards off his board, but to no avail. The North Atlantic's fury detonated around him, and Cotton was tossed into the air like a rag doll from the explosion.
Somewhere in the maelstrom, he broke his back. "I think it was the impact of the landing after the lipped catapulted me into the air," Cotton said over email from his hospital bed. "I can remember sort of ejecting into a pretty mellow blast. But then I went weightless for what seemed ages. I was thinking something wasn't quite right. Then I hit the flats a split seconded before getting hit again by the wave, which was probably the worst impact I've ever had...It was an intense few minutes after that!"
Fortunately, Garrett McNamara and Hugo Vau were among those racing to his rescue. "They were there really quick. We work as a trio with two skis so it really limits the possibility of either losing a surfer or getting loads of waves on the head."
By all accounts, everyone involved did a phenomenal job in the rescue effort. Cotton has already vowed to get back in the water and start charging big waves again soon. When asked if there were any lessons to learn from this round of punishment his answer was pretty revealing.
"Ummm...Just don't fade too deep!," he half joked. "I watched a couple sick lefts in the morning and if I'd drawn those lines on those waves it could of been the wave of my life. That wave just ran a bit quicker than I hoped...That's surfing!"