This August, Tahiti saw it's biggest swells in 15 years. Providing massive waves for the mens Billabong Pro Tahiti event. Professional big wave riders flew from around the world, Keala Kennelly among them.

KK saw the infamous swell pointed toward Teahupoo and we're sure it moved her. She towed into some beautiful barreling bombs.

Keala was in Tahiti to honor her good friend, the late Andy Irons in the AI Memorial free surf by invitation from his brother Bruce. It was during this free surf that Keala's face met Tahiti's feral reef with an injury that would have disgustingly painful photos of her gash circling the internet.

Team manager Megan Villa asked her to tell us how it happened.

Keala Kennelly, TeahupooKeala Kennelly in a Teahupoo barrel (not the injury causing wave)


MV:What was it like surfing on that huge day with everyone else out there?  Did you get any good waves that day?
KK:It was intense. I saw some crazy stuff go down out there, like Bruce and Nathan's bombs. I didn't want anything to do with the big ones that some of the guys were going on, they just looked like mutant death slabs. Sancho (who was driving the ski) managed to pick some of the medium sized ones for me and I got some really fun waves that day thanks to him. There was one barrel I got that I was particularly happy with because I was really deep and at one point I really didn't think I was coming out. I started to feel my the front of my board lift up from the white water exploding up into the barrel and it almost bucked me off backwards but I was able to shift my weight back on to my front foot and come out with the spit. I was super pumped (and relieved) to make it out of that barrel.

MV: When did your injury happen?  Was it the day of the huge swell?  Tell us about the wave that it happened on.
KK: It happened 2 days after the tow day during the AI memorial heat right before the final. It was a pretty regular looking wave. I took off and it kind of had a bit of bump that kept me from pulling into the barrel straight away. I had to make some adjustments and then saw that the next section was going to throw so I bottom-turned and parked it in the barrel. I traveled for a bit, had to negotiate the foam-ball and that may have thrown me off and made me have to draw a higher line than I would have liked. I thought I was coming out but the lip just clipped me in the head and threw me straight into the reef before I even realized what happened.

MV: How many stitches did you end up getting?  What is the healing process like?  Will there be permanent damage to your face once it is all healed?
KK: I counted 51 external stitches and there are a lot of internal stitches that will be absorbed by my body.  The big cut was all the way to the bone, dangerously close to my right eye and there was reef inside that needed to be removed. When I arrived at the main hospital in Papeete they first did a CT Scan because they were very worried I had broken my skull, cheek bone or injured my neck. We were all very relieved when the CT scan came out all good. From there I went into surgery where they removed the reef and sand from inside my face and stitched up the huge gash by my eye, cuts in my head, chin and jaw. I spent the night in the hospital and the next day I was released and flew to LA and then back to Hawaii. There was a lot of swelling the first few days, I hardly recognized myself. My right eye was almost completely swollen shut and I was in a lot of pain. When I got back home to Hawaii I slept a lot in the beginning.

I went to see the best plastic surgeon in Hawaii and he was very pleased with the job done by the Tahitian Surgical team. He removed my stitches and then covered the area with surgical tape. I will be wearing this surgical tape for the next few weeks to minimize scarring. Even though I get weird electrical sensations in my face from time to time (nerves reconnecting) the surgeon doesn't think there will be any permanent damage and that the scarring will be minimal.

MV: When do you think you will be able to get back in the water?
KK: I'm going to give it a few more weeks to fully heal. Where the deep cut was is closed up now but it's still very sensitive and tender to the touch. I don't want to put myself in a situation that would compromise the healing process. Winter is right around the corner and there is still too much sand at Pipe for it to be good yet so I'm not missing anything.

MV: What do you think of all of the media attention surrounding this injury?
KK: It's been crazy. I can't believe how many people are talking about it. The super gnarly photo has gone viral all over the internet. The outpouring of love and support from people all over the world has been overwhelming in a good way and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.