Bells Beach, Australia
After surviving earlier rounds versus the world’s best surfers in the 1992 Coca-Cola/Rip Curl Classic at Bells Beach in Australia, Richie Collins found himself in the final against Martin Potter. Although the waves were only two to three feet and inconsistent, this was his third heat of the day, and exhaustion was catching up with him fast. “When you’re surfing a contest, and you’re paddling 100 to 150 yards, maybe 200 yards if you get a longer wave, and catching seven or eight waves in a heat–that’s really hard to do,” remembers Collins, a top ASP contender at the time.
Then, during his second-to-last wave of the final, he suddenly felt something was wrong with his back when he pulled into a small barrel, came out awkwardly, did a floater, and landed, “That’s what started it,” recalls Collins.
His back only got worse the next time around: “When I first took off on my last wave, as soon as I stood up and went for a bottom turn, my back went out. I ended up riding that whole wave when my back basically gave me a couple seconds before it was completely done. That ended up being a high-scoring wave for me, and I did a floater at the end, landed, and that was pretty much it. I’ve got a video of me after I kind of leaned off my board, got up, and you can just see my lips read, ‘Oh my back!’”
In tons of pain, Richie bellied his board in, desperately wanting to return to the lineup. But with his back out, he couldn’t even walk and he remembers how he was relegated to watching the rest of the heat from the beach: “I just went up to the beach and started playing in the sand like a kid. Pretty much praying to god going, ‘Please, please, no waves, no waves.’”
Thanks to the last two waves, Richie was leading with ten minutes left. What was hurting him more was the fact he agreed to make it a 40-minute heat instead of the usual 30 due to the inconsistent surf: “I sat there after I came in. I went, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I told the guy to put ten minutes on the final, and here I am waiting ten more minutes.’”
For the rest of the heat, the only sets that came in were knee- to waist-high, and Potter needed a shoulder-high wave for a required score in the high nines. “Basically he needed two 8.5s to beat me, and there were no 8.5s,” says Collins. “There were a bunch 6.5 and sevens coming in, and he finally just threw his arms up, paddled in with two or three minutes left, and said, ‘You know what, I’m not gonna win this way.’ After he went in, it went dead flat–nothing after that.”
Helplessly trying to get back to the competitors’ area, Collins was finally put in a stretcher and carried back during what he calls the most painful moment of his surfing life. Forced to miss the ceremony, he was in so much pain behind the scenes he didn’t know where he was–he eventually was taken to a hospital by a local lifeguard and his wife. “I got no phone call from the ASP,” says Collins. “Nobody called but those two, and they wanted to see how I was. They came out, picked me up, and brought me home.” –Checkwood