Bra Boy Mark Mathews has opened up about the horrifying wipeout that almost saw him lose his leg and plunged him into a dark place.
The big wave surfer turned global keynote speaker – who as a youngster was initially fearful of the ocean – saw his world come crashing down on October 25, 2016.
Raised in Maroubra in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Mathews, 39, grew up with fellow Bra Boy Koby Abberton and has conquered notorious surf breaks such as Teahupo’o in Tahiti and Jaws in Maui, Hawaii.
He was working on a surf shoot on the south coast of NSW when he was severely injured as he was being double towed into six-to-eight-foot waves and landed feet first on a shallow reef.
He suffered a long list of serious injuries, including a broken leg, dislocated knee, two snapped ligaments, major nerve damage and an artery that tore lengthways.
Bra Boy Mark Mathews (pictured right with Koby Abberton) has opened up about the horrifying wipeout that almost saw his leg amputated
The big wave surfer turned global keynote speaker – who as a youngster was initially fearful of the ocean – saw his world come crashing down on October 25, 2016 when he suffered a long list of serious injuries when he hit a shallow reef on the NSW south coast
His torn artery meant Mathews was on the verge of losing his leg.
‘I was at a place called Kioloa, and made a mistake, picked the wrong wave,’ Mathews told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Initially in hospital I was relieved when the doctor told me I wasn’t going to lose my leg … if we arrived an hour later, the leg was gone.
‘But when they said I had severe nerve damage which was unlikely to heal and that my surfing career was (probably) over, it started a downward spiral.’
After close to a year spent in his Maroubra apartment across the road from the beach ‘with the blinds closed’, Mathews was approached by his good mate, Australian filmmaker Macario De Souza, to document his story on behalf of Red Bull.
Initially hesitant, Mathews eventually agreed, and ‘The Other Side of Fear’ was born, outlining the natural footer’s mental and physical struggles after his horror wipeout.
‘I knew Macario would do a good job, some of the footage from my wife’s (Britt) iPhone was pretty raw,’ he said.
‘I was on that many painkillers, having endless surgeries … From being super active and a professional athlete, to just being in a hospital bed or the couch at home was tough, I had some dark days.’
Mark Mathews (pictured with wife Britt) has since made the life transition into public speaking, travelling the world as a keynote speaker
Mathews has some handy advice for youngsters looking to pursue careers as professional athletes: have a plan B in life
Mathews did return to the water about a year later – first swimming, then bodyboarding, then riding a longer mal surfboard – but the doubts remained.
He often questioned whether he would be able to charge into big waves ever again – and thankfully for the man now based on the Gold Coast, the answer was yes.
‘I definitely want to surf all over the world again, but Covid made travel impossible and being a father with young girls doesn’t make it easy,’ he said.
‘I remember when I was younger, the combination of fear, fame and loving what I was doing what just the perfect cocktail.
‘Growing up in an area (Maroubra) where many guys pushed themselves to the limit in all aspects of life saw me quickly out of my comfort zone.
‘Seeing guys like Koby – who at one stage for me was the best big wave surfer on the planet – excelling was definitely why I also chased a career in the sport.’
Mathews is keen to surf the world’s biggest waves again – but the global pandemic has seen his travel plans put on hold
He has surfed some of the biggest breaks in the world, including Teahupo’o in Tahiti, Jaws in Maui and Pipeline in Hawaii (pictured)
Mathews also had some handy advice for youngsters looking to pursue careers as professional athletes: have a back-up plan.
‘The reality is about one per cent actually make it, you need to find a way to transition your skill set,’ he said.
‘Personally I find public speaking very daunting, it scares me more than drowning.
‘If you have a framework to overcome your fears and are patient, you will be successful in whatever you do.’
Mathews’ keynote speaking story is dubbed ‘Life Beyond Fear’, and he has spoken to companies including Google, Amazon and Facebook – as well as the triumphant NSW Blues State of Origin team last year.
*Mathews spoke to Daily Mail Australia at Port Macquarie, on the mid-north coast of NSW, where he was a guest speaker at the Ride the Wave Festival.