Fletcher, 36, conquered the biggest barrel of all time while riding a 20-foot Tahitian monster.
On August 27, waves at the infamous Teahupoʻo, Tahiti big-wave break were too dangerous for the highly-anticipated Billabong Pro. Nevertheless, a group of surfers that included 36-year-old Nathan Fletcher paddled out while the world’s top touring pros watched in awe. On just his second wave of the day, Fletcher, 36, conquered a wave that was later heralded as the wave of the year by surfers and spectators alike, among them 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater. We caught up with Fletcher, who spoke with Men’s Journal about what it feels like to ride — and survive — a 20-foot Tahitian monster.
by Cat Buckley
That day, 20-foot swells were crashing at one of the most infamous big-wave breaks in the world. That didn’t intimidate you?
I wasn’t paying attention to that. I think that’s why I got it — I really wasn’t paying attention. I was just trying to get in the water. Up to that point, I wasn’t having that great of a day. But it was my turn in the lineup, and when that wave came, it just drew me in. I was only thinking, “make it.” That was the one thing going on in my mind.
What was it like being barreled inside one of the heaviest waves in surfing history?
Truthfully, I almost gave up, because I couldn’t see what was happening around or behind me. Still, I was thinking, “whoa, I’m going to make it.” Famous last thought. All of a sudden, I was falling. And I just thought, “this isn’t good.” But because of fate, I guess, I got lucky and didn’t hit the reef. Things just went the way they always do for me. Which is fantastically incredible.
So you escaped unscathed from one of the heaviest, thickest, and meanest reef-breaks on the planet?
Don’t get me wrong — I got really, really pounded. After I surfaced, I really didn’t know what I had done. Sure, everyone was telling me, “that was a huge wave,” but I kept thinking, “whatever, everyone caught huge ones today.” I didn’t believe any of the hype until my friend sent me a picture message the next day.
Besides that epic ride, what other recent waves stand out as favorites?
I caught one in Fiji about three weeks before Teahupoʻo that was actually the wave of my life.
How did that Fijian ride differ from Teahupoʻo?
I didn’t have any expectations. I wasn’t going in there with the mindset, “I want to get one.” I was only paying attention to cruising and having a good time.
While you escaped Teahupoʻo injury free, you’ve had some major injuries throughout your career.
Yes. I broke my femur and had a rod put in two years ago.
Yeah, that hurt.
How has that affected your surfing?
I can’t do laybacks on little waves anymore.
Where is your favorite place in the world to surf?
Tahiti. It’s given me everything.
What’s Nathan Fletcher’s next adventure?
I’m just cruising! I’m super stoked and content. Everything’s better than I ever could have imagined.