Warming up for the Margaret River Pro earlier this year, Brazil's Caio Ibelli went for a stock air in blustery conditions. He came down wrong, broke his foot, and up until the last day of the Surf Ranch Pro, hasn't surfed a wave since.
"It was a little windy, a little choppy and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a few waves without a lot of people out," said Ibelli when the WSL caught up with him this week. "On my third wave I tried to do a straight air. I had a hard landing, which resulted in two fractures on my metatarsal bone and a Lisfranc injury."
Carried out of the water and up the beach by his father and surf coach Chris Gallagher, Ibelli returned to Orange County, California, where he lives with his longtime girlfriend and former Championship Tour competitor Alessa Quizon.
"As soon as I got back to the U.S., Dr. Warren Kramer had me in a boot for about four weeks until the bone kind of healed and we could see if I would need surgery or not," explained Ibelli. "After the bone healed, it created a little space between the two bones that keep the ligament tight. He told me I would need surgery and he might have to put a screw in during the surgery if he thought it needed it."
"My first question when I woke up after surgery was if they had to put a screw in," continued Ibelli. "They said yes, which I wasn't really stoked about. It just doesn't sound good to have a screw in your foot, especially when you need the whole flexibility of your foot to move. But it had to be done."
Stuck in a cast and then a boot, the initial rehabilitation process was slow going. Ultimately it took three months before Ibelli was able to get back in the water.
"I'm doing a lot better," he said. "I'm out of the cast, I'm walking, and I just had my first surf in Lemoore. I was fortunate enough to get a few waves on the final day. I was really stoked to make it all the way through on the right and get a couple of barrels. Dr. Kramer was on site and he cleared me to go surf.
"That was my very first wave back. It felt good. I had so much adrenaline going and I was so stoked. On the left I started feeling a lot of pain and couldn't perform the way I wanted to. The day after, I got my first surf in the ocean and it was really fun, but I felt a little pain."
Anticipating that he would be back to his old self after so much time out of the water, his waves at the Surf Ranch were certainly a milestone, but he's currently nowhere near where he needs to be.
"It was different than I expected. After four months out of the water I expect to be pain free and surfing like I used to, but it wasn't really the way I thought it would be," admitted Ibelli. "It felt really good to be in the water, but the foot was a bit painful and I couldn't perform the way I wanted to."
"Right now I'm taking it slowly and riding my twin-fin that I shaped during the time I was injured. Last month I thought maybe I could come back for France or Portugal, but that's not really going to happen," he added. "My foot's been more sore than I expected it to be and there are little issues that I thought I wouldn't have by now. I'm expecting to come back for Pipe and then be fresh for the CT next year."
And while the time out of the water has been a challenge for Ibelli and the progress has been slow, he's been productive with his time. He continues to work with a physical therapy team and train. He also picked up shaping to help get through the long days.
"During my time off I started working on a 5'2" twin-fin, which I thought would be easier to shape than a high-performance shortboard because it's more forgiving," said Ibelli. "It came out insane. It's the board I rode on my first wave in Lemoore. It worked better than I thought. I had a lot of time to work on it and change stuff and make it better. When I ride it I feel this special connection to it that I made and it's just priceless for me. I'm planning to ride it for the next couple weeks."
Not done there, Ibelli hasn't been able to keep the foam dust off of him since.
"Board number two I ended up screwing up," he laughs. "I just shaped it too much. The tail got a little weird, so I tried to fix it, then it started getting narrower and narrower and narrower. I had to trash it. I was going to give it to my girlfriend Alessa, but once I started screwing it up there was no saving it."
"Board number three I made for her dad, a 7'5", it was the most challenging thing of my life," said Ibelli. "I worked on it for 10 days probably. It wasn't easy, but it came out pretty good. My next project will be working on a better version of my first board. I want to put a little more nose rocker in it."
For the foreseeable future, Ibelli expects to spend his days easing himself back into the lineup. Living in Dana Point, he has great access to Trestles and all of the surrounding waves. He expects to be in Hawaii for the Triple Crown of Surfing in November, but is setting his sights on a fresh start in 2019.
"You can't force these things, you have to take your time. Hopefully I can get the injury wildcard and pick up where I left off," said Ibelli. "I'm really excited about the schedule for next season. Starting a month later will make a big difference for everyone I think, and it will give me more time to train and get ready. I emailed the WSL to say thank you and let them know how much I appreciate it."