In this year's Billabong Pro in Tahiti, 34-year-old Australian Nathan Hedge took off on a huge 10-foot wave, free fell from the sky, made a miraculous recovery, and exited in a massive spray to huge cheers from the channel and 10s from all the judges. Having gained a wildcard spot through the trials event, that perfect 10 enabled him to beat world No. 6 Adriano De Souza.
And while the wave was remarkable enough, the journey there is even more impressive. Three years ago Hedge spent six months out of the water in a live-in drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, his surfing career seemingly over and his life at a crossroads. We talked to Nathan about his incredible comeback.
You have had some tough times, what are your goals now on tour?
I'm only two years or so sober, so it's all still relatively fresh. People can achieve amazing things when they tidy up their act. So I don't want to limit my potential, be it getting back on tour or giving back and leaving a legacy where through my surfing I actually help people improve their lives. You know, maybe that's the goal. I am not really sure yet. I keep an open mind to the possibilities.
You had a successful ten-year career at the top of the sport. How hard was it to cope with falling off the tour and losing all your sponsors?
Well, whatever happens, you know I have been ranked in the top 10. I have beaten the best guys in the world. I have been pitted all over the planet, and I have come out the other side. You know some people die, and I could have easily died along the way. Now it's about being humble, but having the drive to succeed.
What part did the partying and alcohol play in your downfall?
I'd known I'd had a drama with alcohol for a long time and sought my first treatment for it in 2007, but I made the mistake of trying to do it on my own. Look, there's a lot of things that need to happen in your life to be ready, and I tried everything under the sun.
How hard was the transition?
Putting the bottle down is one thing, but there's so much programming and conditioning that has been going on for years that has to change. It's about learning how to live a whole new life, basically. I had to change my life and start from scratch, and that included most of my friends and most of my lifestyle choices. It was a pretty big makeover.
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Having the taste of big WCT events like Tahiti and now being ranked 35 on the Qualifying Series, is there more pressure there now to qualify for the elite WCT?
There's no pressure to qualify from my side. It's a celebration that I am back. It's not as intense. I don't have to do it for the mortgage. I don't have to do it for anyone but myself. I am doing it 'cause I can.
How hard is it financially to chase the tour?
I've been lucky over the years—I've had family support. My brother has bailed me out countless times, and my uncle as well. It's a fairly long list. I've had my luxuries and all the trimmings and lost them all, but I'm in a much better place now and gaining great sponsors and support. My primary focus is not about being someone this time around. I've been the blonde, curly-haired kid with the coverage and the push; this time it's about what legacy I can leave behind. What changes can I make and what example can I be?
For his 10-point ride in Tahiti, check out the clip below.
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