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How to Overcome Surf Injuries with Fiona Peters

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Have you suffered surf injuries that has made it difficult to get back into the water? Then this post is for you.

I asked Fiona Peters to do this interview because I noticed she was having an unfortunate run of gnarly surf injuries. First, she broke her nose at Uluwatu and then she ripped open her feet in the Mentawai Islands. For most surfers, these injuries would leave mental scars that could keep them away from surfing for months. But not Fiona. She took time to heal and then got right back into the water. I know a lot of us deal with lingering injuries and confronting memories of the events that caused them, so I invited Fiona to give us her perspective on overcoming fear related to surf injuries.

For those of you who don’t know, Fiona is an incredibly talented professional fashion, lifestyle & brand photographer who takes some amazing photos of our favorite surf destinations around the world. Check out her photography work on her professional account, @fionapeters, and her surf/travel/expat/life stories on her personal Insta, @fionaleepeters.

But for sure do yourself a favor and check out Fiona’s beautiful photography website www.fionapeters.com for some gorgeous photos and tropical vibes.

Without further ado, our interview with Fiona…

Fiona is a true Water Woman and demonstrates her passion for the sea through her exquisite photos.

Fiona is a true Water Woman and demonstrates her passion for the sea through her exquisite photos.

Tell us a little bit about where you live and where you like to surf?

I was living in Bali until recently with the world pandemic! Now currently staying with family in Lakes Entrance, Victoria, Australia. Not the best waves here, much cooler, we went surfing in a 4/3 last week! But still amazing to be in the ocean.

When did you learn to surf? How long did it take you to start riding a shortboard and/or surfing in more serious waves?

I learnt to surf in a small town called Berrara, it’s 3 hours south of Sydney. From memory I progressed from a mini mal to my first short board within 5 months. I still have the Custom Byrne mini mal I learnt on! I’ll keep it forever.

How do you know your limits? How do you decide whether the surf is too big or dangerous for you?

I’ve been surfing for 21+ years, I usually surf G Land every year, last year first time in 9 years I didn’t go. Once you’ve surfed a wide variety of waves; beach breaks, reefs, slabs, shallow, hollow waves, you know your limits. You can sense when you’re out of your comfort zone.

Cris and I lived in the south west of Western Australia (Yallingup) for 20 months last year, that coastline is endless for waves and huge swells is frequent, plenty of powerful ocean there. There were times I said, no I’m not comfortable in that, so I watched and took photos with my telephoto lens. WA would have to be some of the heaviest waves I’ve surfed. Sometimes even duck diving the ocean would be so powerful it’d rip the board from your hands.

Fiona finds peace and stillness in the sea.

Do you have any special tactics or practices you use to deal with fear before, during, or after you surf? (i.e. meditation, visualisation, physical training).

When I’m walking out and paddling out I always say gratitude for simple things for that day, that week, my ability to surf, the sun, the warm weather, the warm ocean, etc. This seems to put my mind at ease and I’m heading into a positive frame of mind to make the most of my session.

Tell us about your scariest experience(s) in the ocean. Where were you? What happened?

I was 15/16 surfing the bar here at Lakes Entrance, it’s 90 mile Beach here and there’s a man made entrance for the hundreds of fishing fleet in the town. The Entrance can have strong currents and a lot of water moving around. It was about 4-6 foot and my leg rope came undone after coming off a wave. My board was gone, tide was coming in so my board streamed into the Lakes, later a commercial fishing boat collected for me, it was hundreds of metres away.

Meanwhile, I was trying to stop myself from going with the tide, fighting against the speedy current into the Lakes, and facing the edge of the Entrance which had large rocks.

I was anxious, thinking the powerful ocean could pull me down, drag me out with the conveyer belt tide, and potentially I would drown.

Luckily my boyfriend at the time noticed I was in trouble, he caught a wave in, and threw his board out in time for me to grab hold of before the current forced me into the lake.

I’ve had some wipe outs in my time, we all have. However, there’s never been one where I was scared for my life. The Lakes Entrance – surfing the bar experience certainly remains in my mind as the scariest incident while surfing.

I did fracture my nose last July at Temples, Uluwatu. However, the wave was so good! The injury occurred in the end section, an epic barrel. Unfortunately, it closed out and I was rolled a couple times. I thought I was ok until the board swung back and whacked me in the nose. It didn’t hurt at all, but as soon as I surfaced there was blood streaming down my face. I was more annoyed the surf was pumping and there was only about 4 of us surfing it properly! Ha ha!

I then had to wait for the swelling to go down and flew to Perth after 4 days for plastic surgery which cost a lot of money and water time! I had to wait 2 months for recovery until I could surf or even put my head under in the ocean. But, I’m happy I flew to Australia to have proper care. Of all my surf injuries, this one was the most frusterating.

Fast forward to 6 months post-fractured nose. I traveled two full days to Macaroni’s Resort in the Mentawai Islands from Bali. I was super pumped to attend 2 weeks intermediate surf coaching with Clayton Nienaber and Cris Mills (aka Surf Strength Coach – my partner). I was also so excited to finally surf the famous Macaroni’s wave. I couldn’t wait to get the best barrels of my life.

Immediately after I arrived, I got the quick intro from the guys about the training for the week and we all got ready and headed out for a casual, free surf, with no coaching.

I was in the water for 3 minutes! I’m not joking… my first wave, I rode along it fine and then maybe I didn’t kick off in time for the shallower end section? I don’t know. Fate was what happened. To this day, I’m not annoyed; it was a clear sign I was not meant to be there. The slight tip edge of my board caught into the face of the wave and I tumbled, rolled a couple times with the wave, felt my wrists and arms hit the reef first, and then my knees. I didn’t even feel my feet hit. 

It happened so quickly I barely noticed where my body had touched the razor sharp reef. I was annoyed that I came off on a mediocre wave, grabbed my board, and begun paddling out the back again. But after a few moments I felt something and I looked behind me to see my feet severely gushing out blood.

I think I even laughed about it and was like, “You have got to be joking?!” I knew that it didn’t look like a simple reef cut you cover up later to heal naturally. I couldn’t believe it was literally my first wave of the two week coaching clinic, it had only been 6 months since my fractured nose. 

I looked at it from a positive frame of mind and knew it could have been a lot worse. The Mentawai Islands is far from the mainland (Sumatra is 4 hours fast ferry) and Macaroni’s Resort is the only place that has an accredited Doctor on site and a small medical room. 

Lucky there were two Australian doctors there at the time, it took 2 hours to thoroughly wash, literally scrub the reef from my knees and feet and 20 stitches later in my feet, this two week surf coaching trip – something I had been dying to do for the last 4 years of Cris and I being together – was cut short within 3 minutes of entering the ocean. 

I laid in bed, unable to walk for 56 hours until the slow ferry schedule was departing, Cris accompanied me back to Bali, which consisted of a 12 hour overnight slow, local ferry, he carried me up the four flights of stairs on the ferry to a local style room, which is by no means western style. I didn’t mind, we’ve travelled remote Indonesia, I understood there was no luxury ferry ride back to Sumatra. 

We arrived early the next morning in Padang, Sumatra, checked into a hotel, where we could shower, eat and prepared for the 2 flights to Bali, and then I had another overnight flight to Melbourne. 

My wounds were very deep, I almost severed my tendon on the bottom of my left big toe. The two Australian doctors had advised me to return to Australia as the risk of infection was too high if I stayed in Indonesia, particularly in wet season where humidity reaches 95%. 

Once I arrived to Australia, it finally hit me what had happened. I’d travelled again for 2.5 days non-stop, minimal sleep, I couldn’t walk, couldn’t enjoy the freedom lifestyle I had created. 

After two weeks of being house bound, alone, unable to do much at all, depression creeped in and I knew what had happened was meant to as it was an obvious sign.

But I kept questioning myself, what was life trying to teach me? What was it telling me?

My second serious surf injury within 6 months and I knew the path I was on must not be the right path. 

I finally returned to our home in Bali 4 weeks after the Macaroni’s feet incident and I could sense something was still not right. Then a couple weeks later and the COVID-19 begun to be serious across the world and we left Bali, not knowing what the future holds. 

Here we are today, not sure when we can return to our home in Bali and adapting to the much cooler climate. Three duck dives now and it’s an ice cream headache! 

Right now, one thing I am grateful for is the ability to surf. Even if it is the crummiest of waves, being in the ocean doing what I love, my ocean meditation, brings me the most joy in the world. Having lived in and out of Indonesia the last 5 years, surfing the most perfect waves has been such a privilege I will never take for granted again. 

Is that a triple overhead left somewhere in Indo? Yes, yes, it is.

Is that a triple overhead left somewhere in Indo? Yes, yes, it is.

What did you do to overcome Those specific surf injuries?

My first surf back after fracturing my nose was at Uluwatu at Racetracks. People everywhere, I was very selective with my wave choice and would constantly cover my face when finishing my wave or when others were nearby with their boards. I was a little paranoid of others boards hitting me! I certainly kept a close eye on everyones’ boards, including my own. It wasn’t until about my third surf back after fracturing my nose when I was in Mentawai Islands surfing a break called Scarecrows that I knew I was fine. It’s more a mental state. Once you know your ability and you know you’ll be fine, I quickly got over the fear of a board whacking me in the face.

As I look at it, I’ve been surfing for 21+ years and I hadn’t had any major surf injuries until then so my likelihood of having another serious accident is very slim!

Fiona & Cris

Fiona & Cris

What are your current goals (surfing-related or otherwise?)

I don’t really have surfing goals now, I’m 35. I wish to continue surfing until I pass away, if I can still walk, then I can still surf. My partner is Cris Mills aka @surfstrengthcoach I’ve used a lot of his techniques and training and my surfing has improved dramatically over the 4 years we’ve been together.

I’ve learned you’re never too old to change a bad habit or to begin taking better care of your body, in order for your to surf more efficiently.

What is the greatest lesson (or meaning) surfing has taught you?

My surfing accident in general, was like a smack in the face, literally. It made me stop and have to clarity why I was stressed (mostly financially) and for me to create calm in my life and mind.

Once I was clear on my next path, our next path, I knew my accident happened for this purpose. I don’t regret any of it or wonder, “why did it happen to me?” I know why it happened and I know I’m far stronger from it. ⁠⠀

For me, surfing is my meditation. I escape to the ocean for peace of mind. I noticed when I was recovering from my fractured nose, how much surfing or being in the ocean is essential for my mental wellbeing. Even a simple beach walk, listening to the ocean sounds, feeling the sand and water beneath my feet I’m instantly at ease, my mind calmer. Through my injuries and being out of the water, I learned I cannot live without the ocean.

This girl has certainly cut her teeth (and herself) on Indonesia’s reefs (especially the lefts) and it shows in her surfing… She charges!

This girl has certainly cut her teeth (and herself) on Indonesia’s reefs (especially the lefts) and it shows in her surfing… She charges!

How do the lessons you learned in the ocean carry over into other parts of your life?

As I’ve become older, I’m a calmer person. I used to be a fast-paced, HIIT training addict. Since meeting Cris, I feel happier in myself. Over the last 9 months since fracturing my nose, I’ve gained some new beliefs in life and learned to let things go. Accepting each experience, the good and the bad, as a life lesson.

In particular right now, we have no control or no future plan of when we can return to our home in Bali. However, we’re happy and super grateful to have a nice place here in Lakes Entrance. Thank you to my family!

I know this too shall pass.

Check out how other female surfers manage fear while surfing in our “Overcoming Fear Series.”

1 thought on “How to Overcome Surf Injuries with Fiona Peters”

  1. Thanks for sharing! I needed a success story. I too am an intermediate surfer. After way too much home office, I decided to get serious about my surfing and found a surf coach to help me.

    I was already seeing some improvements after the first day. And I was from frothing! The surf forecast was crap for the next couple of days, so I decided to take my 10 year old daughter to the beach for some fun in the sun.

    We were having a blast surfing the sandbar on her boogie board, getting sand in our ears etc. And then it happened.

    The largest set I had seen in days was swelling up just beyond the sand bar. We both charged it head first. I grabbed her hand and the board and tried to push through the wave, but dem boogie boards don’t sink too good. And the lip caught it just right and the entire force of the wave jammed my hand over my wrist.

    After we took one or two smaller waves on the head. I could tell some wasn’t right. I couldn’t close my hand.

    “Let’s go back to the beach,” I told my daughter calmly.

    “One more! One more!” My daughter cried!

    “Yeah, daddy hurt is hand. We have to go home now.”

    To make a long story longer, I drove us back home wet, sandy and coming to the reality that I would need and x-ray.

    A trip to the ER revealed two metacarpal fractures and emergency surgery. I’ll find out Friday how long I’m out for.

    What was life trying to teach me? When things are out of your control, sometimes the best thing to do is just let go. Or don’t be the kook that tries to duck dive a bodyboard one-handed! Namaste 🙏

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