When Wiping Out Is a Win

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

Pro surfer Nathan Fletcher is currently enjoying winter in Hawaii’s North Shore surfing the Banzai Pipeline, one of the most dangerous surf spots on the globe. What’s to fear? He’s already done it: Surfed the biggest barrel ever. On August 27, the swells were so big that officials put a hold on the Billabong Pro Tahiti competition, and a “Code Red” prohibited many boats from nearing the coastline. It was a day when the beach at Teahupoo—translation: Broken Skulls—might live up to its name. And a day when Fletcher took on a 37-foot monster that sucked him in, spit him out, pounded him to the sea floor—and he lived to tell the story, skull intact. musclemorphosis.com.

Fletcher is a familiar name in surfing. Indeed, Nathan's family are “surfing royalty.” His father pioneered surf filmmaking and Astrodeck—the traction pads on surfboards. His brother Christian brought skateboarding to the water with aerials and flips.

And now Nathan has—quite literally—taken the ride of his life. We spoke with him recently.

MuscleMorphosis.com: How was it growing up in family of “surfing royalty?”
Nathan Fletcher: Honestly, it made it too much at first. I was a little kid and surfing was all I knew. When I was a teenager, I stopped surfing for a few years and did different things. Afterwards, I was bummed that I stopped, but it actually gave me a different approach when I came back to it.

MH: How so?
Nathan Fletcher: I had a job packing boxes when I wasn’t surfing, so when I realized I could get paid to surf, I really felt fortunate. I wanted to get in the water and do something on my own, and have fun. I like being a beginner at things more than being experienced because you don’t have any self-expectations. I think somebody who is just starting surfing has more fun than the best guy out there.

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MH: Well you’re certainly not a beginner anymore. You surfed what many are calling the biggest barrel ever . . .
Nathan Fletcher: I can’t even believe that. It’s a huge claim. I dealt with some crazy stuff before that. For one, a real close friend of mine, Andy Iron, passed, and then my friend Sion Milosky drowned basically in my arms. Sion was my best friend and total opposite—totally prepared. Bags were packed. Boards strapped on the roof. When he passed, I thought, what would he do? And I knew he would do his best and grow from it. When I look at catching this wave in hindsight, I don’t know how I didn’t get hurt—that’s what is supposed to happen. I think fate gave me this great experience after dealing with those lows. All I can do is be thankful for that. I didn’t go to Tahiti thinking, I’m going to catch the biggest wave ever. I just thought, there are going be a ton of prepared guys out there and maybe I’ll catch a few waves, too.

MH: So were you nervous?
Nathan Fletcher: Yeah, I mean this is what I do, and I do it because I love it, but leading up to it I was super-nervous knowing there was a swell like that out there. I do better in the water socially than I do on land, though. I have social anxiety a little bit, so as soon as I got in the water, I relaxed. Within the first couple minutes I got cleaned up by a set and had to ditch my board and bail under huge waves though. So I was out there with no board thinking, today’s going be like this? This isn’t a good start.

MH: Ha! But it was a good finish . . .
Nathan Fletcher: Well, I didn’t think I was going to make it when I caught that wave—I thought I was too deep. It just seemed really treacherous that day. I didn’t feel I’d survive the wipeout. I just thought I’d hold my breath as long as I could and remember which way was up. I thought, OK my life’s been great, but how can I handle this?

MH: Did you ever think you might make it?
Nathan Fletcher: Yeah. I can’t really explain the way it looked when I realized I might make it—almost like a full pipe. It was a weird angle and having the wave suck out that hard was definitely different from anything I’ve ever seen. When I came up, I couldn’t believe I was at the surface. Everybody was telling me how crazy that wave was when I went in. I was thinking, wow these people are tripping me out. Then I got a text message of a picture of it the next day.

MH: That picture was on the cover of Transworld Surf, right?
Nathan Fletcher: Yeah, Brian Beilmann snapped the photo. He’s a good friend. He sent that photo to my parents and said it was the greatest shot he’s ever taken. It was amazing. It was a life goal I didn’t know I had and didn’t mean to do.

MH: So what’s next?
Nathan Fletcher: I’m playing it by the moment. Something’s going to happen.

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