HALF MOON BAY -- As a 50-foot, El Niño-fueled monster wave swallowed Garrett McNamara, and his left arm snapped at the shoulder, the fully conscious surfer had only one clear thought as his body tumbled and tossed in the foamy cauldron.

"The only thing I could think of was, 'Damn, I shoulda done more yoga,' " McNamara said in a phone interview from his remote Hawaiian home, his first lengthy interview about his epic Mavericks wipeout last week that some are calling the worst ever caught on film.

The 48-year-old big-wave surf legend who grew up in Berkeley before moving to the famed North Shore of Oahu, quickly downplayed the international astonishment focused on Thursday's crash, saying it wasn't even his worst fall at the famous break off Pillar Point Harbor.

"Watching it looks pretty amazing, but there's so much heavy carnage because everyone is going so hard these days," he said. "I wouldn't call it the worst."

The fall, which included his body skipping three cringe-inducing times down the steep, choppy face of the wave, left him with a broken humerus bone in his upper left arm that had to be surgically repaired at a Novato hospital. He expects a 2-to-3-month recovery period before he returns to surfing.

While recuperating "off the grid" in Hawaii, McNamara spoke for a half-hour about the gnarly wipeout and viral video that has garnered him worldwide attention, as well as regret over not sticking to his stretching routine that could have perhaps saved his arm from being broken. He expressed thanks to his fellow surfers, jet ski team, spotters, harbor personnel and medical staff who rescued him from the water and put him back together.


The revered location can be unforgiving. Two other accomplished big wave surfers have died at Mavericks; Mark Foo of Hawaii in 1994 and Sion Milosky, also of Hawaii in 2011.

Mavericks competition founder Jeff Clark invited McNamara, who owns the Guinness world record for largest tow-in wave surfed at 78 feet, to surf the frigid, wild Northern California spot in 2007 and "GMAC," as he's known in the surf world, was hooked.

"Ever since then, I fell in love and I can't get enough," he said.

Listed as an alternate for the 2016 Titans of Mavericks competition, McNamara had surfed two large swells last year and flew out last week when he heard about the large waves accompanying a series of El Niño storms hitting the coast.

"I went with the focus on catching the one big wave," he said.

Accompanied by a small group of surfers, jet ski riders and land spotters, McNamara left the beach at dawn. As swells passed underneath his fluorescent green board, he bobbed up and down, the sun just peering over Scarpet Peak.

On his flight to the mainland, he developed a sore neck and Thursday he inflated his wetsuit more than normal to act as pillow. It may have saved his life.

Still from video showing Garrett McNamara being tossed by huge wave. (YouTube)
Still from video showing Garrett McNamara being tossed by huge wave. (YouTube)

Big wave surfer Nic Vaughan, who was in the ocean beside his friend that morning, called the conditions choppy and challenging, leading him to watch the first few sets. Not McNamara.

"To me, it looked amazing, good and clean," McNamara said. "I tend to get overly excited and want to just go. I just love, love big waves."

As he paddled out to the break, the first wave missed, but the second wave "came right to us," McNamara said.

"I just turned around and took a couple pretty casual strokes," he said. Paddling into a big wave, rather than getting towed in by a jet ski, is much more challenging.

"Right when I stood up everything was perfect. Everything was facing down the wave," he said. "Instead of being committed and focused, for lack of a better word, I was a little too casual and confident."

The world saw what happened next and McNamara too has a surprisingly vivid recollection.

"I remember everything like it is now," he said. "Plus, I got to watch it over and over. I've been analyzing it."

Shortly after standing on his board, he wobbled.

"I put my hand in the water to correct myself and keep my balance, I don't know what happened, everything was perfect up until then," he said. "I (went over head first) and all of a sudden I was going down the wave so fast and wind was blowing so hard."

He remembered seeing a "bright, bright light," which he believed was when his left arm got caught inside the wave.

"I hit with my arm out and it snapped right at the ball and it just dangled there," he said.

He joked about also having a sore wrist and head: "I think that was from my dead arm beating me up." He referred to the mangled arm as his "alien."

The reason he went "skipping and skipping and skipping" down the wave was due to his customized inflatable Body Glove survival suit. Many surfers who crash at the famous break are held underwater while waves keep crashing above. But the inflatable suit kept McNamara at the surface."It definitely saved my life," he said. "I'd rather skip and live, than not skip and die."

Once he reached the bottom of the wave, the mass of water "ripped me apart in every direction," he said.

Three, four or possibly five more waves crashed near him, as jet ski rescuers struggled to reach him. And when they did, he couldn't pull himself onto the sled.

"My alien wasn't working with me. My left arm was staying under the sled," he said.

He yelled to his friends: "I think my arm is dislocated! I think my arm is dislocated!" and Ion Banner, a Titans of Mavericks board member, jumped into the water and pulled him up as he grew dangerously close to rocks.

"It was the most excruciating pain I've had ... a throbbing sharp pain," he said.

As he recuperates, McNamara said he will focus on finishing his autobiography, spending time with his wife, friends and 18-month-old-son, Barrel. Will he make this year's Mavericks competition, which has a window ending March 31?

"This year, no. Next year, definitely."

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.