Just over nine months after a freak wipeout at Backdoor nearly ended Dusty Payne's life, he returned to competition yesterday advancing through Round 3 of the HIC Pro at Sunset. With plans to compete in the Triple Crown straight after that, by all accounts, it's a miraculously quick comeback from such a gruesome injury.
We recently gave Dusty a call to see where he's at in his journey back, get this thoughts on returning to heat surfing, and find out how he feels about paddling back out at Pipe, where he stated "I'm not really concerned with the result as much as I am just trying to go out and have the best time ever. It's such a blessing just to be able to surf again."
World Surf League: It looks like you've been getting some fun surf at home on Maui this past month. After all you've been through this year, that must feel really good.
Dusty Payne: Yeah, I'm so stoked. I was pretty much losing it all summer because it was so small. The last month has been nonstop -- south swell, north swell, just a lot of fun waves all over the place.
It's been nine months since that wipeout at Backdoor. Are you happy with where you're at? It looks like you're surfing really well.
Yeah, I am. It's been a process. But I'm slowly getting there.
When I woke up from the injury, I wasn't sure what happened. When I think about it like that, I'm just happy to be able to surf again at all. So yeah, I guess it's been pretty quick getting back to where I am, but I don't know ... it just feels right to be in the ocean.
You've had a few major comebacks in your career, but none bigger than this. How does your return to competition this time around compare with past injuries?
It's apples to oranges, really. There were a lot of things that happened on January 8th that, had they gone just a little bit differently, there's no way I'd be sitting here today.
So, I don't know. I'm not sure I can compare coming back from a knee injury or back surgery or a hurt ankle to something that almost killed me. There are a lot of important people that played a role in keeping me alive. I've never been happier to be back, though. That's for sure.
What's been harder: the physical or mental hurdles you've faced recently?
Definitely the physical ones. There were a lot of things I had to re-learn how to do. The day I came to in the hospital I couldn't even stand up on my own two feet. I had to hold onto something. It took me a long time to even get up out of bed and walk to the bathroom without being afraid of falling on my face.
To have to re-learn how to do everything -- just adapting to my body all over again -- and now trying to apply that to surfing, it's been really tough. I've basically had to re-learn how to use my body the way I did before. And that has taken a lot of physical work. A lot of time in the gym, and, more recently, in the the ocean.
I imagine it must be really exciting when you get a wave and do something - a big air or whatever - that feels the way it did before.
Oh, I'm so excited every time that happens [laughs]. Seriously. When I'm able to ride away from something clean ... it's funny, I'm way more excited now that I ever was before. I feel like a little kid. It's hard to explain. It's almost like I'm re-learning how to surf and I'm just having a lot of fun with it now.
I'm so grateful to even get a chance to do it now. It was almost taken away from me for good. I don't know, it's hard to explain how happy I am to surf. I honestly can't really put it into words.
Have you thought about what it'll be like getting back in the water at Pipe?
There's gonna be a lot of emotion. I was just thinking about how -- just going back to the North Shore -- how that's gonna feel, because I haven't been back since the accident. But I guess the good thing about the accident is I whacked my head so hard I don't actually remember it [laughs].
But yeah, there will be a lot emotion going back to Pipeline. Just being at the Volcom house again. There's gonna be a lot of things going through my head these next couple of weeks. I am excited for it though. I'm ready to move past it all. Just confront it head on.
That's awesome to hear.
Yeah, I'm so grateful for the opportunity the WSL has given to me. Just to be able to go back and compete at Haleiwa and Sunset - it's my favorite time of the year and I'm looking forward to it so much. I'm so excited to compete and just get those butterflies of being in a competitive environment again. I've missed that feeling.
You've earned it. And you certainly deserve it.
Thanks. I'm not really concerned with the result as much as I am just trying to go out and have the best time ever [laughs]. It's such a blessing just to be able to surf again. Let alone do it in a jersey.
You've won at Haleiwa before, and have a runner-up Sunset. After all you've gone through, you're due for some chips to fall your way here soon.
I hope so. But I'm just doing it for myself. Honestly. I'm gonna enjoy this winter so much. I'm so beyond grateful. I can't wait. I don't know, it just feels a a lot different for me than it's ever felt before. I kinda feel like it's my first event ever. A new chapter. And a super exciting one.