Pro surfer Greg Long is home recovering after suffering a serious wipeout on Friday at Cortes Bank, an open-ocean break approximately 100 miles west of San Diego, Calif., during one of the heaviest big-wave sessions of the year. Rescued, revived and stabilized by rescuers and medics on location, Long was airlifted out of the area by Coast Guard helicopter and transported to the University of California San Diego Medical Center, from which he was released Sunday.
Long issued a statement on Sunday detailing his harrowing ordeal and offering gratitude to the men who saved his life and to all who have expressed their support and concern.
"I am home following a 24-hour stay in the UCSD hospital in San Diego for precautionary observation as a result of the near-drowning experience and blunt-trauma injuries I suffered from the impact of a sequence of four large waves and a three-wave hold down," Long said in the statement.
The inflatable bladder built into Long's wetsuit failed to deploy, which drove him to the bottom and forced him to scramble up his leash to surface.
"I made it to the tail of my board while it was still submerged in the turbulent and aerated water, at which point I blacked out from CO2 saturation and lack of oxygen," Long said.
Long -- a repeat Billabong XXL winner who's also taken the Maverick's contest -- was forced off his board when fellow surfer Garrett McNamara unknowingly dropped in on him, blocking Long's line and causing both men to tumble into the deep. The massive wave the pair paddled into (about 25 feet, according to on-location photographer Frank Quirarte) pinned Long down through a rapid series of bombs and knocked the wind out of him, preventing him from catching his breath whenever he managed to break through the wash.
Rescue-team member DK Walsh (brother to pro big-wave surfer Ian Walsh) was finally able to retrieve Long in the impact zone. Abandoning his Jet Ski, Walsh grabbed an unconscious Long tightly and held on through another set wave, at which point fellow rescuers Quirarte and John Walla powered through the roiling water on their Jet Ski and extricated Walsh and Long via sled.
"I began regaining consciousness during the ride back to the support boat we were operating from," Long said. "Several other rescuers assisted [in] getting me onboard, at which point I began vomiting the small amount of water I had aspirated and a large amount of blood, which I later learned was from a combination of the blunt-force trauma of impact and the rupturing of capillaries due to extreme breath-holding."
It was ultimately Long's detailed preparedness that saved his life. Long had chosen his Cortes team carefully, selecting such veteran watermen as Shane Dorian, Ian Walsh and Grant "Twiggy" Baker as well as two medics, a pack of photographers and filmers and a full complement of experienced rescue-boat operators. The crew stocked up on food and water and hauled out with them six support Jet Skis.
"Having trained for extreme breath-holding, at no point did I allow myself to panic or lose confidence that I was going to survive this incident. I do, however, fully acknowledge that I did exceed my limits of endurance, and that there will always be elements of risk and danger that are beyond my control while surfing waves of any size. ... Humbly, I express my deepest gratitude to the team of rescuers and fellow surfers [whose] training and precise response contributed to saving my life," Long said.
Long had also consulted with Mark Sponsler, founder of StormSurf.com, before heading out to catch the sizable swell.
However, as with all predictions, rapidly changing weather conditions in distant water make even the best forecasts just part of the story.
"It looked promising on the models, but like any modeled storm it's just a fantasy that is created by a super computer," says Sponsler, who was also part of the Cortes crew. "Ultimately you have to get the real data, which only shows up after the storm is actually formed and steaming in."