Andrew Cotton on getting flung to the flats at Nazare
Last week, while the surfing world was swallowed up by the drama of various wave pools, Craig Jarvis sat down to speak to the WSL Wipeout Of The Year award winner Andrew Cotton.
You'll remember Cotty as the fella who was ejected like a Project Mercury astronaut out onto the flats after aborting the barrel at big Nazare.
Wanna see it again?
The impact broke his back and caused Cotty to miss the entire northern hemi winter. But as Jarvi finds out, it hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for the XXL stuff.
Swellnet: Andrew, it’s good to hear from you. Tell us, prior to that swell, what were you tracking on the charts? How big was the swell that you saw?
Andrew Cotton: The swell looked like the perfect size to me: not so big that it’s breaking too far out and crumbling through, but still giant and breaking right on the beach. Anything from 3½ to 4½ metres of swell, 16-plus second period and wind from the northwest is going to get me pretty excited.
Wednesday November 8, 2017. How big was it?
Yeah it was the best I’d seen it in ages. I watched in the morning and saw numerous 20 to 30ft spitting kegs on the first peak. I was frothing and knew it was only going to get bigger all day.
Who were you towing with?
We usually team up in threes. I was towing with Garrett, and Hugo Vau was driving safety.
What board did you have underfoot?
I’ve been riding SPO tow boards for the last couple of years. They’ve been working with Garrett for years and have come up with a couple of designs that just seem to fly at Nazaré. Perfect weight distribution and flex patterns. These boards really make a huge difference.
Had you caught any other waves thus far in the session?
Yeah I’d caught about three or four waves and was really warming up. I felt really good to be honest, board felt good and was feeling really fit and focused.
When did you decide that you were going get barreled out there? Was it planned out beforehand, or was it an instinctive reaction?
It’s a pretty tough place to get barreled as it’s a hard wave to get deep on, and a lot of the tubes pinch and aren’t that predictable. The wind was blowing straight into the lefts in the morning and I saw a couple of screamers that really looked like big makeable pits.
Is there a way to get in the barrel on the peak at Nazaré? It seems that you need to be high on the wave to get barreled?
Lucas Chumbo has got inside a couple of bombs on the bigger days, though no-one's really made it out of any yet though. But I’m sure they will soon.
Spray flying off his inside rail, Cotty fades back towards the headland to place himself deeper on the peak
Back to your wave: You faded on the bottom turn. At Nazaré. What were you thinking?
All or nothing.
Fair play. Do you remember much from the time you faded to the time you were flying through the air?
Yeah, I remember thinking that the wave was an absolute bomb, it seemed to be bending and wedging the right way and I knew if I was going to get pitted I needed to be super deep.
As I came off the bottom, however, the wave sort of hit a wobble and backwash, which is when I realised I was pretty fucked. I sort of did a ridiculous bunny hop over the lump, and then hit the eject button knowing I was too high to straighten out but not high enough for the tube.
Looking at the footage I shouldn’t have tried to bottom turn on the wave, I should have faded but still kept super high, but that’s hindsight for you...
Talk us through the actual movements of the wipeout - lip explosion to flying to going underwater.
I just jumped off and sort of braced for impact, but it never really came. I didn’t know I was flying through the air, I actually thought maybe I was getting sucked over the falls inside the tube. The weightlessness seemed to go on forever then I hit so hard the pain was instant.
What goes down must go up...and back down again: Cotty's trajectory followed the exploding whitewash
Did you get more on the head afterwards?
Yeah. I came up and Hugo couldn’t get to me so I had to take another wave on the head. The hold down on the second wave was worse and I ended up pulling my vest.
What was the extent of your injuries and where were you treated?
I went straight to Leiria Hospital, which is about 30km from Nazaré. They X-rayed me and I stayed there for about three days. I then flew to Manchester where I saw a spinal specialist, had more X-rays and scans and was diagnosed with a fractured L2 vertebra on my lower spine. I started rehab as soon as I was able to, at the High Performance Center that Red Bull use.
What has been your rehab program?
I’ve been doing quite a bit, but obviously limited on bending and loading my body. The first couple months I just worked on my core whilst lying down and also loads of pool exercises like squatting, walking without my brace and stuff. Managed to get on my Wattbike most days to keep my cardio up although it wasn’t the most comfortable cycling with the brace on.
Think this will change your approach to Nazaré or big wave in general?
I want to see this as an opportunity to come back stronger. I don’t think I’ll change my approach to big wave surfing or to Nazaré, and my goals are still very much the same regards wanting to surf the biggest waves and focusing on pushing my big wave surfing.
Is winning biggest wipeout a proud moment or a bit of a booby prize? I mean, you win for falling off in the most intense way...but it is for falling off.
Ha ha, yeah, can't say it's ever really been a dream of mine to win that award. But in big wave surfing you have to enjoy and be prepared for the wipeouts to get a chance of experiencing the biggest waves. It’s just part and parcel of it.
My kids think it’s hilarious, mocking me that I’m so good at falling off my surfboard they’ve actually given me an award for it.