Wild Rides

Sometimes the interesting part of a surf experience has nothing to do with how well a wave was ridden, or if one was surfed at all

| posted on August 18, 2013
The boys, moments after Brett Archibald was rescued from the open water. Photo: Tostee

The boys, moments after Brett Archibald was rescued from the open water. Photo: Tostee

By Jeff Mull

Alone in the dark of the night, Brett Archibald floated on his back, miles away from land. His skin was blistered, his body was tapped, and his will to live was slipping away. Ready to give in, he attempted to swallow the seawater that surrounded him, but his body rejected it. He’d been treading water alone for more than a day and he was running on fumes. He’d been brushed by a shark, stung by jellyfish, and had seagulls pick at his eyes, but he hadn’t given up completely, yet.

Twenty eight hours earlier, Brett, 50, was onboard the Nagu Laut en route to the Mentawais for a surf trip. In the middle of the night, a storm had torn through the Mentawai Strait. At 3 a.m., feeling ill, Brett stumbled to the side of boat, vomited, passed out, and then fell overboard. He came to in the wake as the boat plowed onward. It wasn’t until 8 a.m. that Brett’s friends and the crew realized he’d gone missing.

The captain placed a distress call to all other vessels in the area and began retracing their steps. For the next 20 hours, scores of surf charter boats scoured the waters in search of Brett, to no avail. Brett’s wife, Anita, set up a Facebook page back in South Africa detailing what had happened to her husband, encouraging friends to pray for him.

“I gave up out there eight times during the entire ordeal,” Brett recalls, “but each time something incredible happened that energized me again.” He hallucinated about the Virgin Mary, thought of his wife and family, and contemplated all that he had accomplished in his life and all that he hadn’t. More than once, boats narrowly passed him by. Each time, the rough seas of the Indian Ocean cloaked his waving arms and muted his screams. At one point, a boat came within 500 meters of him, but then abruptly took a 90-degree turn back to sea.

“At that point, I gave up entirely,” he says. “I exhaled all the air from my lungs, sunk a meter or so below the surface, and inhaled a lung full of seawater and waited to slide into unconsciousness. Then I changed my mind. I came out of the water like a jet-propelled engine and lay on the surface coughing and spluttering. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black cross heading toward me. Another hallucination, I told myself. But it kept getting closer and closer and I suddenly realized it was the mast of a large yacht. It continued in my direction, but I was too exhausted to be energized. I knew it would turn away and leave me shattered and broken. And true to form, it turned left, but only slightly, and then continued course. I suddenly realized that if it stayed on that course and I put all my effort into it, I could intercept it at approximately 500 meters.”

Brett put everything he had into the next few minutes. He swam because his life depended on it. He lifted his head and began to shout, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” A man on the bow of the boat turned toward Brett, raised his binoculars, and then signaled to the other crew members that he’d seen a man. After 28 and a half hours alone at sea, he was saved.

The boat that rescued Brett, the BarrenJoey, was an Australian surf charter vessel that happened to have a doctor on board who administered Brett an IV. Physically broken and emotionally shattered, Brett called his wife via a satellite phone to let her know he was alive.

In the wake of his near-death experience, you’d expect Brett to have checked into the nearest hospital and hurry home. But after just a day’s rest, he chose to continue on with the rest of his trip. “I had to make my peace with the ocean, with God, and to assimilate and process the ordeal that I had just been through,” he says. “Had I not stayed on and completed the trip, I truly believe I would now be in a loony bin talking to sharks, jellyfish, and seagulls. It was cathartic for me and something I just had to do for my own sanity.”

  • Helder Neves

    How come the world

  • roger

    No way! Uncanny that this happened again, after the episode in April!

    • David Van Rensburg

      Very uncanny

  • LeRoy


  • OB Regular

    Hot flash. I was out that day. That was not a 10′ wave. It was nearly triple overhead. I suppose if you’re a macho Hawaiian Waterman, it’s only 10′.

    • nettwench14

      Was thinking the same thing looking at those photos! Looks 15′ even by Hawaiian standards. Huge.

  • Declan Lawn

    This man is incredible! So much respect for a legend! Take it easy bro, enjoy the ride and everything life has to offer. You have already proved yourself in every way that you are an impeccable surfer that charges harder than most ever will. Hope your recovery is quick!


  • kyesurf

    when your in the water you on you’re own I learned at age thirteen one mile out and dropped a fifteen footer on the backside hunting cliffs and leash broke every wave pushed my board a wave futher. had to swim in two foot of foam and finally caught my board on the beach.I told my uncle and cousin and they said cool were going back out.

  • Ryan Ragan

    God Bless you Mike – I lived in OB SF for 20 years and had some pretty bad one’s there too ,but your neck & almost paralyzed (woooo) you have gone through a lot. Glad to hear your on your way back to a healthy recovery. Heavy story -Ocean Beach does not play!

    I wish you a speedy recovery. Much respect & admiration. ( your the man)!

    Ryan Ragan

  • Joe Fonebone

    “It was shrinkage !!!”

  • Blake Corbin

    It was MUCH bigger than 10ft that day.. I was two blocks north and heard the ambulance arrive. Not the most reassuring sounds sitting in the line up.

  • Adrian

    How does religion come into this? Incredibly lucky man and strong man, that’s it. Survival of the fittest. Why would a mystical being choose to save one man in a sea of turmoil? Come on people, it’s 2013. Magicseaweed, you need to be educated.

    • Rich

      Adrian, there is a God! A God which loves you. Loves you so much He gave his only begotten son, Jesus, for you. Jesus came accomplished that goal and now waits for you Adrian, a place prepared. Free of charge…the one condition…accept it. You have your whole life, but you will never find true satisfaction outside of Christ, so I , not Jesus, say do it now. Don’t put it off. You know He is real you feel it just like I did. It is written on our hearts. That part of you that you argue with…the part that you have to keep telling “there is no God” that is your heart. The truth is written their. Jesus said, ” I am the way, the TRUTH , and the life. no man comes to the Father but by Me.” There I said what I needed to say whew! Now maybe I can get away from this computer. Oh, Adrian, I am really pulling for you man, REALLY.
      A former surfer,
      A present father,
      A future surfer,
      and father to a great
      surfer, Richard M.

  • Victor Redondo

    Awesome bro! Welcome to Costa Rica!!! Pura Vida!!! hope you recover soon

  • Ari Thompson

    who on earth takes a shotgun on a surfing vacation. this guys problem was his own. it’s madness – i’ve been on vacations all over the world – including central america, mexico, south america, asia pacific – i also enjoy surfing and scuba diving. NOT ONCE have I ever thought while packing – hey i should take a gun. (not that i even own one to begin with). YOU don’t need a gun here at home and especially abroad to surf.

  • Nick

    Mexico is a cesspit of corruption , nevertheless, it’s pretty stupid to take a shot gun to a foreign country – in some countries in the Caribbean and Central America he could have got 29 years for that Alone!!

  • Andres Niemeyer


  • AK

    At Sloat I always see these guys on SUPs that purposefully pull into closeouts at this size and bigger. How is it that Parsons’ got so wreaked? Maybe he was using the wrong equipment?

  • Kara Hawthorn

    life is gnarly dude

  • Bart Kalisvaart

    Why bring a shotgun… nothing good can come of that.

  • gary jones

    I like cheese Dudes