In 2012 Long suffered blunt trauma injuries and nearly drowned after a three-wave hold down at the big wave spot located 100 miles off the coast of California. He was found unconscious, floating face down in the water and had to be airlifted to the hospital.
“I surfed those competitions just a few months later, and I wasn’t enjoying my surfing at all. I wasn’t having any fun and it was a time of immense stress,” the 32-year-old says. “So when I won it didn’t really mean anything. Coming on the heels of one of the most significant events of my life, there was no enjoyment in or even a sense of accomplishment.”
Long struggled in the aftermath of the accident, first physically and then mentally. “There was a year at least where I questioned if I really wanted to keep doing this,” he says. “Finally I got to a point where I realized this is really what I love to do. I was shaken up, but I knew the path I wanted to walk in life. I just had to find a way to overcome my fears and frustrations.”
The way Long did this was relatively simple. “I finally got to the stage over the last few years where I learned not to take it too seriously,” he says. “I’d always been so driven and goal oriented which are amazing attributes to have, but it can take away from enjoying the present. I took the pressure and stress off myself and I only surfed when it felt right.”
Long had the chance to test his new approach at the Pe’ahi Challenge, the first paddle-in competition held at the Maui big wave break last December.
“It all changed at that first comp at Jaws. That was the biggest, most windiest and most dangerous we’d ever paddled it,” Long recalls. “I paddled out with no stress telling myself if I didn’t catch a wave, it didn’t matter. The aim was just to have fun.”
For Long having fun meant taking off on one of the biggest waves surfing had even seen. “I sat by myself and that wave came and there wasn’t a single thought that I didn’t want to be there,” he says. “When I saw it I knew it was going to the biggest barrel of my life and I knew I wanted to go.”
Long pulled into a huge closeout and suffered a horrendous wipeout, but the wave set a new benchmark.
“You know it was a monumental wave of my life, but it was a lot more than that,” Long says. “It meant I’d overcome the mental challenges that I’d had since Cortes. I had repaired my confidence and that set the tone for the rest of the winter and the world title.”
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