by Billy Kemper
September 8, 2020
As Big Wave World Tour Champion and 4-time winner of the Peahi Challenge, he is one of the greatest big wave surfers of all time. But as Kemper lay in a hospital bed in a rudimentary Morcoccan hospital, watching the doctors examine a blurry X-ray of his pelvis with the light of a cell phone, he was terrified.
Kemper had just suffered a horrific wipeout during a surf session at a powerful Moroccan point break, and despite the blurry X-ray and flickering light, the crack in his pelvis was there for all to see.
With the full extent of his injuries still uncertain, he was rushed to a larger hospital in Casablanca, where higher quality imaging confirmed his broken pelvis and collapsed lung, as well a litany of other debilitating injuries.
Only upon his return to the United States by privately chartered medical flight did further imaging reveal the ligament damage to his knee – ACL, MCL, meniscus – all gone. He was lucky to be alive. But would he surf again?
Spoiler alert! He was already back in the water by June, catching some easy ones in Waikiki with his family. Though the road ahead may be uncertain, the top of the podium is clearly where Kemper wants to see himself again.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed Kemper’s career that he would be back. But the ferocity and sheer force of will he has displayed along his road to recovery thus far shows just how uniquely driven and passionate the man is.
At Medterra, we’re honored to partner with him as a brand ambassador for our CBD products. Whether you have goals of athletic excellence, struggle with chronic pain, or simply want to improve your daily wellness routine, Kemper’s story has something to teach us all.
No matter what obstacles life puts in front of us, we can always choose to Live Harder.
“It traveled from hundreds of miles away to meet me here at this moment. On this glassy evening, this one wave came to me. It was the perfect mile-long wave, a barreling behemoth point break just waiting for me to match its energy.”
As I picked off this perfect wave, the sun illuminated in the blue water. I drew a little bit of a long line on my board’s outside rail that caught an edge.
That’s where everything went wrong.
The ocean swallowed me as I got sucked over the falls. It was so big – so much water. I landed on a rock and was out cold. The ocean had gone quiet.
This had been one of the best waves of my trip in Morocco. It was my last day. I had already surfed for nine and a half hours, but a couple of my friends decided to paddle back out to catch one last wave.
I couldn’t resist following.
My trip to Morocco went from the best time in my career to the worst nightmare of my entire life. Everything was taken away from me the moment I caught that wave.
I cracked my pelvis, suffered a collapsed right lung, muscle contusion on my quad, and the ACL, MCL and meniscus were torn in my knee.
When I woke up in the Morrocan hospital not able to feel the majority of my body’s right side from my hip to toes, I questioned everything.
Will there be a return? Is it possible to return? Am I mentally wanting to go back there and risk everything?
I had just come off a run in sports that’s rare. Not only in surfing but on the court or field. It’s hard to carry momentum like that through an entire season. I had won the WSL Big Wave Championship in 2018, and I was four-time Jaws Big Wave Champion, coming off of my Ride of the Year award.
I felt unstoppable. My confidence was higher than it’s ever been. It was what you dream of, what you manifest, what you visualize when you sleep. Those visualizations turned into reality.
Soon I found that it’s not, “Do I return?” It’s, “When will I return?” I can’t live without surfing – that’s the bottom line. That feeling of wax and a board under my feet is unlike any feeling I can describe.
I did think about never surfing again. But what I’ve been through in my past created a map to keep motivating me. I grew up on Ho‘okipa Beach in Maui. It wasn’t the picture-perfect Hawaii you see in postcards. It was radical, rough, and beautiful.
I grew up under the shadows of some heavy hitters, including my brother, who I lost when I was eight to drugs. This made me who I am – it taught me to dig deep in the most challenging times. I’ve always fought for it.
Now, there’s a flow to everything. Every day, I train harder than I ever have. I wake up and start my day with XPT pool training and breathwork up at Laird Hamilton’s and Gabby Reece’s facility. Next, I head to the Mamba Academy for physical therapy and bodywork.
Then I drive 100 miles to Newport Beach to work with Dr. G to tie everything together. Some days, I head to the W Training Facility (at Medterra headquarters) to work on full-body strength and conditioning.
It’s hard to wake up every morning and tell yourself that you’re basically going to put six or eight hours in gyms and in therapy rooms with numerous doctors and specialists.
To keep that motivation consistent is hard. It’s a battle and it truly shows how bad you want it. It’s not easy, but this is the life I live, and I love every moment. This is what I signed up for.
For every step you take backwards, make sure you take two steps forward. It’s a hard process, but if you want it, you can get it.
When I’m home in Hawaii, I still train daily in the water, plus bodywork and boxing. All while trying to be with my family. My motivation comes from my family.
A couple of years ago, my mom was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. My world was over. The person that raised me that punished me is now fighting for her life. I felt helpless.
During this time I researched everything I could. It all pointed back to CBD. CBD was new and on the rise. I was slowly starting to educate myself on what CBD does and how it can help a body more than most medications prescribed worldwide.
I added it to my mom’s daily routine. It didn’t save my mom’s life. But, it did help her. It put a smile on her face. It comforted her. It gave her an appetite. It brought positivity to her. That’s all I could ask for.
I am continuing to use it daily not only myself, but for everyone in my family. We are believers in CBD.
Now, I am on the road to recovery. It feels like flying a plane in turbulence. It’s different every day. The smile and the feeling surfing gives me is just the becoming of what’s to come.
You want to turn something negative into a positive light. And never stop chasing the light. Use that energy to overcome and conquer. This is my life now. It isn’t easy. But, I love every minute of every day that I’m here.
I know that my confidence and mental strength can help me overcome anything that’s put in front of me.
Explore some of Billy’s favorite Medterra products that allow him to pursue his passions and Live Harder.