Looking Back On Damien Martin's Iconic Flogging Of A Lifetime
What’s Damien Martin’s philosophy when facing certain death?
“You’ve gotta be in it to win it!”
Whether it’s a beautifully simplistic adage in the face of fear, or the ramblings of a madman, is anyone’s guess. But truth is, the chance of getting flogged to within an inch of your life by heavy waves is just as normal to Damien Martin as sinking a beer, doing your groceries or scrolling Instagram.
Exhibit A: his infamous straight-hander at The Right, circa 2016 – an absolutely jaw-dropping piece of nightmare fuel and, frankly, one of the most iconic wipeouts of all time. No doubt you’ve spent long nights replaying the bite-sized clip countless times over. It ain’t fresh content, by any means. But now, with the release of the footage in hi-def via Tom Jenning’s new flick, 3 Amigos, we’re revisiting that very day with the man himself to get his thoughts on his whipping of a lifetime – through the (maybe quite sobering) lens of hindsight.
But first, let’s set the scene: in trucks Martin, half-bottom turning, half-straightening out down a big, dark and brooding hunk of Indian Ocean – with every frame advance, the warping lip inches closer to his defenseless spine. You can sense what’s about to happen but like a train wreck, you can’t look away. Maybe you shout at the screen for Martin to brace himself and dive deep. Bail out and sink into survival mode. But not Martin. Instead, the man checks his form and pulls his legs into a set of cregs so perfect it could make Thomas Robinson weep, right before tilting his head and holding an intense stare-down with the lip – almost as a final “fuck you” to mother nature – right until the moment it comes crashing down on his lower back with the force of a thousand thunderclaps.
He came, he saw, and even though he was physically beaten to a pulp – in some weird way, he conquered The Right by wiping out.
More than two years on and we’re still racking our brains as to what was going through Martin’s head to lead him to pull such a stunt. Turns out (rather unsurprisingly), he nearly died in the process and recalls it as the heaviest wipeout he’s ever endured to date. But we had to jog his memory a bit first. Ain’t the first heavy licking this guy has taken, to be sure.
Movement: Everyone who has watched that crazy wipeout probably wondered how you survived.
Damien Martin: Uh, which one? [Laughs]
You’re joking, right? The 20-footer at The Right? You know, the one that took the ocean and dropped it square onto your back while you defiantly crossed leg? Surely you remember.
Um, the straight-hander?
Oh, come on!
Just so I know, it’s the bottom one yeah? [Damo proceeds to send us a series of clips containing some of the worst beatings we’ve ever seen, outside of the one we’re profiling].
We’ve never seen those other ones. There are so many. No wonder you can’t remember.
Nah I remember.
Right. So what happened?
I’d been towing George Humphreys all morning. He pulled back on a few that he should’ve gone, but then ended up on a solid nugget so I took the opportunity to tap in. Straight away, a west lump came through. That swell had a lot of period in it, which makes the wave unpredictable and step out; but this one looked good coming in, so he gave me the nod and we took off; I didn’t take a second look at it. You can’t pull back on a wave at The Right, otherwise you’re going over the falls or copping the next wave of the set to the head. Once you commit, you’re going.
Sounds horrifying. So naturally you committed?
Well, I got to the bottom of it and straight away, I was looking at a 15-foot pit warping in towards me. You go so fast out there so I thought I could get around it and make it to the end bowl. But I couldn’t make it, and so the whole thing landed square on my back.
We’ve watched it a million times over and still can’t believe it. But we don’t know what happened after the impact. Was it as bad as we imagined?
I almost died. It instantly ripped off my fins and board and pushed me so deep, so fast, that it felt like my head was going to explode. I pulled the cord on my inflatable vest but nothing happened. I think I was too deep for it to inflate. After getting thrashed underwater for a good stint, I started to slowly come up but I couldn’t break through the whitewater. It just held me there, dangling a few metres from the surface. So many thoughts were racing through my mind. I felt my eyes getting dark and knew I couldn’t hang on for much longer, that I had to attempt to push for the surface one last time or I was gone. I pushed up and managed to break through and get one breath in, right before a huge whitewash exploded on top of me. But luckily, the whitewash catapulted me away from the reef and into calmer water.
Good lord. Can you compare any other wipeouts you’ve had to this one?
No way. The other ones were sweet compared to that one. I didn’t even need to pull my suit with the other wipeouts.
Surely you’ve been a little more cautious after your smashing.
Nah. I’ve never been cautious. You’ve gotta be in it to win it. After that straight-hander, Lewy Finnegan towed me into a 15-foot closeout that ended in a two-wave hold down.
When you know a particular swell like that one is going to produce unmakeable waves – do you ever weigh up your odds, or determine the probability of riding out of one?
I’ve never taken off on a wave thinking of probabilities of making it. It has never crossed my mind. I do a lot of training for big-wave surfing and feel pretty prepared when I’m out there. But ultimately I just want to ride mountains.
It seems you almost enjoy getting beat down.
I don’t enjoy it, but it does make you feel alive. I’ve never felt more alive than after coming up from a wipeout at The Right, or coming out of a huge pit. I’m probably addicted to the feeling.
If another wave came in at The Right of equal size and fury, do you think you would have another go at it?
100%. I just need some funding to get there again. Red Bull? [Laughs].
You know you’re crazy, right?
I don’t think I’m crazy. Everyone’s different. It would be boring if everyone was the same.