“The lip landed on my back. I have never been so violated by a wave before or since. It was wild and so very humbling.”
Mickey Smith’s CV is long and distinguished. Cornish waterman, journeyman, big wave surfer, professional musician, filmer and photographer. Mickey shares his unique story of when he smashed his arm surfing alone in Ireland, his experience of Surfer’s ear, his thoughts on taking risks and how he keeps himself in shape.
What’s your favourite wave in Cornwall?
What’s your favourite wave in the UK?
MS: Bagpipes in Scotland.
What’s your favourite wave abroad?
MS: Riley’s in Ireland.
Mick’s incredible movie dedicated to his sister.
Do you wear ear plugs?
MS: I have tried lots of ear plugs over the years and lost them all, so I just use blue tack now in winter. The Earplugs I tried were great until I lost them all, mostly after a decent rumbling at sea. The blue tack never seems to come fully unstuck so that’s why I’ve ended up with that.
When did you start having problems with your ears?
MS: I first had problems with ear infections when I started travelling to tropical locations like Indonesia and Tahiti. That’s when I realised how closed over they were inside already as water would get stuck ,I couldn’t clear my ears and the heat would turn the water in there into infections, and I was still pretty young. I’ve had some pretty bad ear infections, one turned into staph in Tahiti and I was hospitalised for two days. That was the first doctor to tell me I had 50 percent closure in my right ear, and that was 10 years ago now. That’s when I started wearing blue tack more often and when I blew my right eardrum last winter the specialist said I still have 50 percent closure in that ear so I’m stoked it hasn’t worsened.
If you’d known more about surfer’s ear would you have worn ear plugs?
MS: I knew about surfers ear but being young and dumb I thought weathering the cold was tough so I wouldn’t wear plugs, hoods or boots or gloves, now I’m half deaf and waitin on arthritis to kick into my hands and feet, awesome! Since wearing blue tack and realising I don’t want arthritis I have tried to help my body out more in the elements.
Have you had surgery on you ears?
MS: I have so far never had ear surgery thankfully, fingers crossed.
How do your ears effect you now?
MS: I just have to not be slack, I’ve definitely lost hearing sensitivity and am probe to blocked ears and infections if I’m not on the case.
HEALTH & FITNESS
You’re able to handle yourself in challenging conditions in the sea..
Do you do any training other than surfing and filming in the sea?
MS: I used to train a lot when I was building my confidence and pushing myself. Now I just stretch little and often, and focus on slowing down my breathing more on bigger days.
I don’t smoke.
Do you reduce how much alcohol you drink before a big surf?
MS: I don’t really drink much these days unless Im on tour with the band, and I definitely wouldn’t have ever consciously aimed to be getting leathered before a big swell, its not really conducive to your preparation! Saying that there have also been times that sacrifices have been made and the bottle has been hit in the name of an elusive swells arrival,and also times where hot whisky’s have been drunk on long cold search missions out to sea.
Do you avoid any foods or eat anything in particular to keep in shape?
MS: I am now vegan and try to eat a lot of raw foods and I am realising more and more how much fitter and healthier that makes me feel without actually doing anything but merrily stuffing my face all day long. I am more energised and alert than I ever was before, it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself without a doubt.
That moment when you know you’re about to get drilled by a wave, (apart from get drilled) what do you do?
MS: Depends on the situation, deep water waves I dive deep, shallow water or heavy explosions just wait for the first big bounce of the whitewater and pin dive or crouch under that. Trying to guess where the bottom is and where you are orientated while getting smashed helps and staying flat while keeping your hands ready to take impacts before your head does helps, but really, sooner or later its your time to take a hit and there’s nothing you can do about it.
How do you get yourself into shape mentally for big surf?
MS: I think about what I want to do, check my motivations are coming from the right place in my heart, what kind of waves I want to ride, how i might do that, or what positions I might want to get into to shoot waves of consequence. Every winter I try and achieve little personal baby steps, I’m 33 now and I’m still learning every swell, staying open to that and watching how the young guns and the other old pards like me deal with it each winter helps so much. Mostly though I like to make it fun, so theres never too much pressure, if its not fun then why are you out there? There’s inevitably times where it gets serious but a grin or a chuckle always helps calm the mind in most situations, however full on they might be.
For someone who doesn’t surf such heavy waves it can look almost like you have a disregard for your own safety. How do you see it?
MS: Depends on your personal approach, everyone is different and has different styles and motivations. When I was younger I was very up for getting smashed out there and pushing myself as hard as possible. Now I’ve hurt myself so much as a result I’m a lot mellower in my approach, you always have to maintain a little edge of wildness to be able to switch off the body and head going ‘nooo’ and just be able to commit to certain situations, but up to that point I try and be very calm and calculated, no pressure, if it happens it happens,just flow and be present with a grin.
Has becoming a dad (I hear she’s now surfing!) made you change how you are in the water?
MS: I definitely have changed my approach a lot to many things since being blessed with my little girl Eiva. She’s 20 months old now and caught her first waves the other day, such an amazing day man! I think of my missus, my daughter, and my family always, they are number one for me and I’ve mellowed so much as a result of having suffered heavy tragedies in my own life. I know how hard it is for those left behind now and I didn’t before. We all have our time and who knows how long that’ll be, so that’s why I try to keep my motivations real and from the heart, and if it doesn’t feel right – when before I might have pushed on and gone against my instincts anyway – now I’m not feeling living like that. I love my family too much to consciously put them through losing me if I wasn’t-and they weren’t 100% sure why I was out there doing that in the first place. Accidents happen and if I went out of this world doing something joyful that fulfilled me as a person and helped me be the best man I can be for them, my family could hopefully be proud of the way I lived my life no matter what. Fingers crossed and reaper willing, I’m aiming to be around to live life with them til I’m a merry old lunatic anyways.
What’s your view on buoyancy jackets?
MS: The billabong V1 parachute vests seem awesome for hectic situations. Ferg has had one a while and when he’s committing hard in conditions that are beyond human control and I want nothing to do with, I feel alot safer for him. Anything that helps preserve life at sea is a bonus,but ultimately you shouldn’t be heading out there unless you feel solid in your own human ability to get yourself out of there I guess,despite the fear of the unknown.
What’s the closest you’ve come to drowning?
MS: A two wave hold down at a place called the Womb in Western Australia,took off in an 8ft wave, lipped in the back, beaten, shoved into an underwater cave, panicked, and was thankfully ripped out again by the second wave. Also my first big wave at aileens in 2005 nearly killed me, still the biggest wave I’ve paddled into, the lip landed on my back and I have never been so violated by a wave before or since, it was wild and so very humbling.
Have you ever been taught how to resuscitate someone who’s drowned?
MS: I did a first aid course a long time ago with that in mind but every year we tell ourselves we need reminding as the techniques change so often. I know basic methods and that’s helped us deal with various situations over the years. Could and should get myself a refresh on the latest training though,we all should.
What’s the story behind you breaking your arm whilst surfing?
MS: I was surfing a shallow ledge in Ireland,the swell was pulsing 6ft and the tide was dropping and I was alone. I kept seeing bombs but kept feeling too scared to push myself into them,I had a few fun ones and was about to get a wave in to shore when a set came through like the others and I just put my head down and went on the first one despite my instincts clearly telling me a straight up no. Pulled in, the shocky exploded me up and over, I was cruising shoulder first coming round the tube and down in the lip ready to try to land flat underwater,and then craaaack, my whole body weight landed shoulder first on my upper arm across a dry ledge of angled rock with the force of the wave on top. Instantly almost blacked out, I have never hit the bottom that hard before or since,a full white flash impact scene it was wild. Came up seeing stars trying not to pass out and trying to grab my board before the next wave explodes when I realised my arm was not where it usually would have been and was instead hitting me in the back of the head. Grabbed my arm and realised I was in kind of in the shit. Got washed into the channel and tried to get the attention of my mate who was surfing the next slab across the bay. My missus was also on the rocks. Made it out eventually and realised I was in a lot of pain. Had a half hour walk back to the car and a three hour drive to the nearest hospital ahead of us. Foolishly we decided to head to the nearest doctors first for pain relief and hope they could call an ambulance to hospital. Had a ridiculous scenario at various local doctors and clinics as a result,all the while getting sent on to the next still in my wetsuit not knowing what had happened to my arm but in a lot of pain. To cut a long story short, 8 hours later I had my first shot of morphine in a hospital three hours away from the waves, after the final local clinic we visited actually believed that I needed serious help when I cut off my wetsuit with my good hand in a fit of rage to reveal my upper humerus snapped in two. They said they would get me an ambulance,but instead that turned out to be an old couple who run a taxi service for the clinic,with live chickens in cages in the back seat and who drove 40 miles an hour on motorways. The whole story would take too long to write down, but It was an interesting experience that’s for sure!
Mick is as versatile a character as he is an artist. He’s comfortable and accomplished with using different types of mediums for expression. Ben Howard is a good friend. Mick also tours in his band and shoots his music videos.
Keep up to date with Mick’s latest projects and work on his website.