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In December of 2016, Tom Butler endured a wipeout at Nazaré that should have killed him. “It was pretty stupid, looking back,” he told Paul Evans for the WSL, just after his release from the hospital. “I felt like I needed to get a score, so I just kinda said to myself, ‘next wave I see, I’m just gonna turn and go, whatever. I’d never have taken a wave like at Nazaré if it wasn’t in a heat…never. I can remember paddling in and I knew I was deep, but I was kinda hoping it would be one of those waves that break, fatten slightly and then run off.”

It didn’t do what Butler hoped. Instead, he got hammered from behind. Something ripped his early nearly off his head, and the force of the wave shifted his ribs so much his lung nearly collapsed. He couldn’t find the toggle for his inflatable vest and spent a very long time underwater. Thankfully, he survived–but it was a close call.

He’s spent the last eight-or-so months recovering both in body and mind, and the third installment of his series, Think Bigger, features some of his biggest and best rides from the last few years, as well as The Wave Project, a kids’ charity, helping less fortunate kids to surf and experience new surroundings.

“After my wipeout at Nazaré, I had some time in a hospital bed to sort of relax and recuperate and most importantly, have a good think about what I wanted to do with my life next,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people and I wanted to get back home and look up setting up a children’s charity. I was doing a bit of research about how this could be possible, and how I was going to set it up. I was looking at the Wave Project’s website–they’re a successful charity–and they had a job role advertised for a project coordinator. So now I’ve got that job now and I’ve been working for them for 4 1/2 months.”

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And, as they say, the rest is history.


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