Red Bull’s Cape Fear might just be surfing’s most interesting event. Like the Eddie, it doesn’t run unless conditions are right. Right, in Cape Fear’s case, is absolutely terrifying. “The name of the game in big wave surfing is about exposure,” said Mark Mathews in a statement that a lot of big wave surfers would probably disagree with. “It’s about doing something so crazy that every news outlet in the world wants to tell the story of what you just did. Everyone wants to see the crazy stunt that you just did.”
Cape Fear, though, definitely checks that box. When it’s well and truly on, it is one of the best shows in surfing. And last year’s event was mind-blowing. “It was going to be one of the most dangerous events ever,” Mathews says in Red Bull’s documentary, “so I really wanted guys that had experience surfing the wave.”
It’s got a different format than a regular event, too. Overlapping heats vary between paddling and towing. The highest paddle score and the highest tow score count for each surfer’s total score. Everyone who wins their heat moves onto the final, while the second-place competitors get one more chance to prove themselves in a “recharge round.” The winner of that moves on to take the last spot in the final.
Although Mathews is basically the man at Cape Fear, he can’t compete. A series of injuries has most likely ended his surfing career. The last, and most serious, was a horrendous one.
Early one morning in 2016, Mathews, fresh off a shoulder injury, was surfing a very sketchy wave on the east coast of Australia. The tide was low, and the wave was thick. On his second wave of the day, he tried to punch out the back of an especially thick one. He got sucked over the falls and landed feet-first on a shallow rock shelf, shattering his leg. It got worse, though. As well as a broken leg, a dislocated knee, two torn ligaments, and major nerve damage, one of Mathews’ arteries tore lengthways and began to fill his leg with blood. After hours of major surgery, surgeons were able to save it–but for while there, they thought they were going to have to amputate.
Thankfully, it all worked out. And while Mark might not be able to surf his beloved wave, he’s still able to be a guiding hand in one of the craziest events on earth.
Watch Red Bull’s Conquering the Storm on RedBull TV, or click on the image at the top to be redirected.