Padaca's back on board after breaking leg in surf
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
Never mind defending the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing championship he won last winter.
In January, less than one month after he won his first Triple Crown title, Padaca broke his left fibula and tibia after he wiped out while tow-in surfing 20-foot waves off of O'ahu's North Shore. In essence, the two bones in his lower left leg snapped in half during the accident.
"It was pretty crazy," he said. "The thought about not surfing again goes through your head. For somebody like me who makes a living surfing, it's a pretty scary thought."
After six months of recovery and rehabilitation, those thoughts have disappeared.
Padaca started surfing again last month, and has declared himself fit to defend the Triple Crown championship which is awarded to the best overall performer in three North Shore contests held in November and December.
The Triple Crown is scheduled to begin today with the Vans Hawaiian Pro at Hale'iwa Ali'i Beach. That will be followed by the Rip Curl Cup at Sunset Beach from Nov. 24-Dec. 7, and then the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters from Dec. 8-20.
"There are still three screws in there keeping my leg together," he said. "But it's fine it's 100 percent."
The injury only makes Padaca an underdog again. It is a role he cherishes.
Padaca, 31, has never competed on surfing's elite World Championship Tour. He was raised in the surf off the Big Island, but has spent the last decade honing his skills as one of Hawai'i's best big-wave surfers.
Last year, he won the Rip Curl Cup at Sunset Beach, and became the first non-world tour competitor to win the Triple Crown.
"It was the best thing that could have happened to me," he said. "I got a couple of new sponsors and I think it solidified some longevity for my career."
It also solidified his reputation as a contender in any contest, in any types of waves.
"There's been a little bit of hype on me, and I have to take that in stride," he said. "I'm enjoying it, don't get me wrong. But I would say it's a lot easier when there's no pressure on you."
Making matters even more difficult, two of the three Triple Crown contests are World Championship Tour events this year (last year, there was only one). The WCT events are restricted to the 46 surfers who compete on the tour. Two spots are kept open for "wildcards" to complete the field of 48.
Those wildcards for the Triple Crown contests will include Hawai'i's best big-wave surfers, and they must compete against one another in a special trials contest just to earn the wildcard spots.
Even Triple Crown executive director Randy Rarick said that the chances of a non-world tour surfer winning the Triple Crown championship this year are "astronomical."
Still, Padaca is not giving in just yet. Even while his leg was healing, he kept other parts of his body in shape. In August, he competed in the Quiksilveredition Moloka'i to O'ahu Paddleboard Race.
A few weeks ago, he returned to tow-in surfing on big waves for the first time since the injury.
"I always kept the faith that I would make it back," he said. "I'm just glad to be back doing what I love."