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Riding The Waves With GoPro

To mark the launch of GoPro on MR PORTER, we filmed a day in the life of New York surfer Mr Mikey DeTemple

Many surfers are so spiritually connected to the sport, they’ll often say they were born to do it. Professional surfer and surf filmmaker Mr Mikey DeTemple was born not to. True, the 33-year-old New Yorker was raised on the beaches of Long Island by surf-obsessed parents. But he contracted a congenital condition in utero, which meant he developed third-degree heart block, a serious cardiac defect that, for the past 13 years, has left him dependent on a pacemaker.

Typically, patients who require an artificial device to keep their ticker ticking are advanced in years and tend not to over-exert themselves. But Mr DeTemple spends every possible moment ripping it up in the surf and getting pounded by crashing waves. “I’m a little bit outside of the demographic that these pacemakers are designed for, and I definitely put them through everything they can possibly go through, and they break,” he shrugs.

He didn’t find out he had the condition until the age of 12, when it showed up on a routine chest examination following a rib injury. “When I was diagnosed with this, the first doctor I saw basically told me that I couldn’t surf again or do any active sports, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to this doctor ever again,’” he says. “So I found a doctor who understands what I do, and that I have to stay active, and that I have to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Mr DeTemple lived without any ill effects until 2003 when, while living and surfing professionally in Australia, he began to pass out regularly. “I went to my cardiologist the week I got back home and he said it was time. I had the pacemaker implanted a few days later.” He was 19.

His has been a uniquely challenging case for the cardiac experts at Columbia University’s heart centre in New York. “The major problem was that they had never really put a pacemaker in someone as young and as active as myself,” he explains. “Each time was trial and error. The first pacemaker was buried under my pec[toral] muscle for protection. That lasted two years before it became dislodged. The second one did the same thing. The third, one of the wires broke. During that surgery, they tried something different by anchoring the pacer to my ribcage and covering it in GORE-TEX so it wouldn’t tear through. That one held for almost four years until the other wire ended up breaking.” On Christmas Eve 2015, he had a major operation to remove all the broken wires. He’s now on his sixth pacemaker – an average of one every two years.

All the downtime before and after the operations has, of course, hampered Mr DeTemple’s pro surfing career, so he developed a complementary skill set as a surf photographer and filmmaker. He now splits his time between Brooklyn and the beach. “I’ve fashioned myself a career where I can drop everything and go surfing when the conditions are right,” he says. “I think I’d really struggle with sitting at a desk in a nine-to-five job.”

Mr DeTemple remains one of the world’s best professional longboarders and he rarely goes anywhere without his board and camera. He often surfs with a GoPro, especially when he’s working. “We’ll have someone in the water shooting with a big camera housing and I like to stick a GoPro on top of that, so we’ve got video running the whole time, which I call double dipping,” he says. “I also like to film myself nose riding my longboard, pointing the GoPro down at my feet as they’re wrapped over the front of the board. And we use them in drones for great aerial shots.”

From the moment he wakes in the morning, Mr DeTemple is surfing a series of different apps and websites to check on local swells. “You’ve got to be an amateur meteorologist,” he says. “You might only get two or three good surf days a month and it hurts to miss one, so you’ve got to be ready.” 

He’s in a WhatsApp group with fellow riders who keep each other updated during the day, and they try and meet up in the waves whenever they can. “The surf community in New York is pretty tight,” says Mr DeTemple. “I have a group of friends that I surf with. Some of them live at the beach, and some of them live in the city. If it starts to look good, you’ll see the phone start going off, and then you’ll know that you’ve got to jump in the car and go find your buddies.”

In the winter, however, he often surfs solo. “When it’s cold, there’s usually nobody around,” he says. “You see the beach in a different way from most people, who only see it in the summer. You’re not there to enjoy the weather. You’re just there to enjoy the surf and all of its solitude. Part of surfing is being able to disconnect. No phone, no email. It’s just you. It’s really one of the only times that you can truly be by yourself.”

The one piece of modern technology Mr DeTemple can never be without is his pacemaker. “After the last surgery my doctor said, ‘You know, it’s going to keep happening if you’re going to keep surfing. I can’t tell you that you can’t keep surfing because it’s part of who you are, so it’s just something you’ve got to come to terms with.’ Having that in the back of my head, sometimes I’m like, ‘Is it worth it?’ It’s kind of tough to wrap your head around. But when you pick those days that are amazing…” He closes his eyes and smiles. “It’s definitely always worth it.”

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