“Hanging in there, literally,” answers Makua Rothman when Stab asks how the Hawaiian is doing. He’s just spent a few days in Cali, recuperating from a face-to-face with the Chopes end section he scored at the start of the recent swell. It ain’t just a scratch, either. Makua’s not sure how many stitches are in there, but he knows there’s at least 50. Oh, and he broke his finger and lost plenty of bark from arm and back, too. “Excuse me, I can’t really talk properly, I just got surgery, so if you can’t understand me, just ask me the question again,” he tells us. So polite! But, don’t let it fool you none! The following story belongs to the bravest soul!
Stab: Did the wave look like a face-breaker?
Makua: It was a bomb, one of those bombs that were getting paddled into that day. The waves were perfect! I thought, “I’m gonna paddle a coupla bombs”. Then one wave came in and I didn’t think anyone was going, so I went, and somehow Keala went too, and he was behind me. If I didn’t look back for that one second and hesitate, I would’ve made it. ‘Cause I’d made the wave all the way to the end, the thing spat, the spit cleared and I was coming out, and at the last second, it felt like the foamball hit my tail. It spun my tail in front of me. I stayed on and faded to correct it, but the board fell out from under me, and then I was bodysurfing the barrel, basically. I was already way into the end of the wave, and you know how it is out there, it’s the worst place to eat it. It felt like someone put my face on a fucking curb and stepped on the back of my head right into the curb.
American History X style. Yeah, kinda like that. I put my hand out and my finger was just fucking sideways pointing at me. It got so cracked I couldn’t even break my fall with my hand. I tried to and my finger just broke straight away. So, my face went straight into the reef. When I hit the reef, it felt like a car hit me straight in the face. At first I thought my whole chin came off. I was gonna get dragged, so I couldn’t touch my face, I had to head to the surface and make sure I didn’t drown. I didn’t feel my face til I got above the water. I went to stick my tongue out, and there was teeth and jawbone, but no lip. I freaked out that my lip had been ripped off my face. It’d been ripped and peeled underneath my chin like a chin strap. So I grabbed my lip from underneath my chin, and it was kinda stuck ’cause it’d stretched so far, and I had to pull it and put it back where it belonged. I stuck my tongue through out and it went through one of these holes under my chin. I stuck my finger in my mouth and it came out the bottom of my chin. I broke the middle finger on my left hand, too, and ripped all the skin off my left arm, and my back n’ shit is just fucking shredded.
Wow. Did you get scooped straight up? I had to paddle back out, ’cause no one was paying attention to me. I waved down Pete Mel somehow, and he got me and was like, “You alright?” Then my lip fell down and he kinda turned white. I was like, “straight to the hospital.” He was like, what? I was like “Straight. To. The. Hospital.” He goes, “Ok”, so I told Garrett McNamara, “Hey bra, take my board, I gotta go to the hospital.” He looked at my face and said, “Go, bra.” So I went in. Raimana’s wife came out the dock and got me in the car, took me to town, to the emergency room, and I waited for 45 fucking minutes. They finally got me in there and said “What’s wrong with you?” I took my hand off my lip, they took one look at it and fucking tripped. Like, “You gotta get straight to fucking surgery.” He was telling me I was gonna need plastic surgery. I was all, “Uh, I know. So, how do I get there?” They didn’t have an answer. So, I caught a fucking taxi to the surgery. Raimana’s wife got me a taxi and I caught it straight to the surgery. Luckily the Taxi driver spoke english and she helped me, ’cause my face was fucked up and I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do shit. The taxi lady checks me in, gets me all set up with the doctor. He looks at my face and is like, “One hour, you’re in there. When was the last time you ate?” I just bullshitted and told him six in the morning, ’cause if not, they would’ve had to operate the next day. And I was like, fuck that.
Spending the night on a Saw IV trip wouldn’t have been pleasant. No Fucking way. So they got me straight in, I was trying to joke with the lady, just get some reassurance, ’cause I was by myself, totally alone with a bunch of fuckers that didn’t even speak english, trying to put my lip back on my face. After the surgery they were saying I had to stay in the hospital for three days, that they needed to monitor me ’cause I’d lost a lot of blood and whatever. Surgery took around three hours. Before I went in, I’d texted Nathan Fletcher, telling him to come get me, ’cause I wasn’t gonna wanna be there after I woke up. Within not even 10 minutes of me waking up, Nathan’s there. Yes! The doc was all, “How y’feeling?” I was telling him I was fine, and he’s saying “No, no, you’re still all chilled on anaesthesia, you gotta stay for three days.” As soon as the doctor left I was like, “Nate, we’re outta here.” Nate’s wife was like “No! He said you gotta stay!” I just said,”Ha! When’s the last time you heard me fucking follow directions?” All I had was my surgery gown and these little cotton boxer shorts they’d given me, right? So, the doctor walks out, and I grab the I.V. and take it outta my hand, and it starts shooting blood ’cause I didn’t take it out right. I was like, “Nate, I need a gauze! Put the gauze on!” We plaster it up and the doctor comes back, and he’s like, “What are you doing? Where are you going?” I just ran straight outside in my boxers, no slippers, nothing. I was like, I’m outta here. I ran outside, hid, and I see the doctor run out, looking for me. I sneak behind the stairs, jump in Nate’s car, and we’re outta there.
Hospital break! Yeah! We got to the hotel and I called the travel agent, like, I need a fucking ticket, now. Bought myself a first class ticket, ’cause that’s all there was, got to the airport and my face was bleeding everywhere. My brother was talking for me, I’m high as a kite, one hour out of anaesthesia, and the lady’s looking at me, like, “Are you sure he can get on the plane?” My brother’s like, “Yeah! He’s fine! He’s just got a little scratch!” My brother had given me a shirt and some shorts by this point, but I had no slippers. “She’s like, you need slippers to get on the plane.” So Nate lent me some. And lucky thing, my brother had brought my backpack from Raimana’s, but I’d left all my boards, all my gear, everything. Finally I get on the plane and fall asleep.
How was the ride? I woke up on the plane and there was just fucking. blood. everywhere. I guess my face thing got stuck to what I’d had it resting on while I was asleep. The lady on the plane was all tripped out, like what’s going on here? I was trying to talk, like “bbbbllllaaaa, so sorry, bbbbblllllaaaa.” I finally get to LA and my guy’s there and I’m like, it’s all over, I’m safe. It was so heavy to be there in Tahiti alone, with no one who could talk english, except to say “You gonna go to sleep now, we gonna put your face back together,” and I was thinking, “Am I gonna look like Frankenface after this, or am I gonna look ok?” The surgery room in Tahiti looked like a fucking Maroubra public bathroom.
How’s it look now? Somehow I’d had the best surgeon in all of Tahiti, and it is absolutely fucking perfect.
You look like Danny Fuller? Danny Fuller? That fucker’s ugly, bra! (Laughs). Nah.
How’d it go down in LA? I went to my surgeon there and he basically wiped it down and gave me the best antibiotics I could get. I saw him and he was like, “Makua, I can’t tell you how surprised I am and how good of a job these guys did on you. This is the guy who I go to, who does Danny Way (skater), he does all the extreme athletes. He’s one of the best plastic surgeons on Planet Earth. He was like, “I couldn’t have done a better job. Whoever did this did up did it up good.” I was just like, “Thank God.” He told me, one inch up, I would have lost all my teeth and ripped my fucking nose off my face, and if I’d hit any harder it probably would’ve ripped my jaw from the hinges. He told me I was the luckiest person he knew, that my face could’ve been really fucked up and I was as lucky as it gets. The thing about it too was, my brother was trying to tell me, “I’m coming to the hospital with you, I’m coming to surgery with you.” I said, “Koa, you need to go surf. You’re gonna get the wave of your life out here. I’m fucked, I can’t do a thing, but you can go out there and represent for both of us and catch the bomb of the day.” He was saying, “I wanna make sure you’re alright!” I told him, “I’m fine, I’m not dying, but I’m done right here, you can go out and surf for both of us, and get The One.” And, he fucking got The One. I was so proud, I started crying. I was like, “That’s my fucking boy!” Too bad he got sucked up the face and over the falls on that thing. Right when he started coming out he got sucked up, it smoked him. He got the best part done though, he made the sickest part. – Sam McIntosh
Editor’s note: Now, ain’t tone a tricky little devil to properly convey via keystrokes? Makua’s tone was jovial, and his use of “Fuckers” was purely affectionate. Mr Rothman’s got nothin’ but love for his Tahitian doctors. And, he even posted on Instagram (prior to speaking with Stab): “Thank you to the great surgeons at PAOFAI clinic in Tahiti for sewing my lip back on my face:)”.