MEET: One-Legged Italian Charger Who Shreds Padang Padang With a Homemade Prosthetic Limb

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 83d ago

Surfing Padang Padang is a wave like no other. Sure, it's one of the best lefts on the planet, an epic wave that can be a barrel haven when conditions align. It's tucked into a peninsula below dramatic cliffs and the barrel intensity increases as water draws off the shallow reef. For some, it's perfection. For others, it can be just that coupled with a kiss from rocky depths. Now, imagine surfing that with one leg.

Fabrizio Passetti is an Italian surfer who grew up on the picturesque coastline of the football boot. Tragically, he lost his leg during a bike accident at just 17-years-old – he's 36 now. So, when a video dropped into our inbox of Fabrizio surfing Padang Padang, we were stoked to see adaptive surfing in Indo and that the surfer was from Italy – which can be a hotbed of setups, if the time and conditions align.

Anyway, turns out, Fabrizio has quite the inspiring story. He is determined to push adaptive surfing after going through a hell of a rough few years coming to terms with the amputation of his leg. Love, life, grief and acceptance are all driving factors in Fabrizio's surfing. We tapped him up to ask a few questions.

Forecast: Padang Padang

Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up?
To tell my story I have to start at the age of 13, when I moved to a seaside village on the most beautiful surf spot in Italy. At the time I was playing football, and I had reached a rather high level, I was very interested in doing it.

And when did you lose your leg?
I was 17. I was working as a cook assistant to become a chef, and I was competing in the surf, but one night, unfortunately, fate and fatigue were my enemies, I fell off my bike and that night my life changed forever. Old Fabrizio died and the new Fabrizio was born. A new difficult path was in store for me.

How was your headspace at that time?
My thoughts after they amputated me? It was 'how am I going to surf?' I stayed for months and months looking at a white ceiling, and the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that no one would stop me from getting back in the water. Shortly after, I started to live a semi-normal life, I worked as a chef in various countries and then in Italy.

But it was all nothing, I had continuous problems with leg infections, the prostheses were too heavy for my amputation. I have one of the ugliest amputations for those who have a prosthesis below the knee because it is difficult to restore, as well as having little movement of the knee and even less leverage when I put on the prosthesis.

Shortly after I opened a restaurant in Italy, I wanted to make sense of my life, and in 2008 my son was born.

Spot guide: Bukit Peninsula

Did that change your perspective?
My reality was made up of exhausting work for one with my problem, I carried out research after research to find the right prosthesis, plus every year I invested my money to buy so many legs, I wanted to get back in the water and I was obsessed with that thought.

All these sacrifices, however, went up in smoke and I saw no results, because those legs were not made to get in the water. I lost all hope and without surfing my life was lost, the only thing that kept me alive was the love of my son.

So why surf Padang?
Coming back to this, I first surfed Padang four-years-ago when but due to incompetent people, they made me a wrong prosthesis and I was forced to sell the restaurant. One evening I got out of work and felt sick in the hospital and was told that I had a bone infection.

Because of this infection, I had to stay in the hospital for many months and risked being amputated all the way to my groin. I cannot describe or try to make you imagine how that would have changed my life.

But it was also my true leap. Leaving the hospital I bought a wetsuit and went back to training in the winter, sea swimming and continuing the antibiotics, the infection was eradicated, it was a miracle.

I healed from a physical point of view but then I was part of the constant problem that no company wanted to take the risk of getting me a new leg.

I could not invent anything because, you have to understand that I have no insurance and with a pension that gives me just 200 euros a month.

And how about work and living?
I went to hospital to ask to amputate my knee so that I could resume work and take care of my son. But the answer was negative and they could not take the moral responsibility to amputate me. But what could I do? Without work, without prosthesis, without my surf.

In desperation, I began to repair old pieces of prosthesis and built a reserve leg. I booked a plane ticket and left for Bali! If I had to lose my knee to get back to work at least I would have lost it surfing. The first place I tried surfing was Padang Padang, tying the prosthesis to my leg with adhesive tape I made my first wipeout and my leg flew off.

I didn't give up and every day, I continued adjusting it until I managed to stand up and to cut the wall of the wave. After two months now the prosthesis made with components not from the sea was usable for surfing again to stand up.

That's incredible, a self-made prosthetic! Talk us through that Bali trip.
After a couple of months, I met a Kuta child who was about to lose a leg due to an accident and I did some crowdfunding. I took care of him by helping him with the little money I had left and I paid his medical bills, it was the best thing I had done in my life!

Now that child not only has both legs but is also surfing. Someone on social media saw the story and there was a media boom at my house. And it was right there that I started bringing adaptive surfing to Italy, the following year there were the first adaptive championships in California where I participated. It's only the beginning.

So what's next?
I need funds to have supporters. To have investors who can allow me to study and perfect my foot.

In addition to Itop, which supports me, I am continuing my research which, thanks to these months in Indonesia, led me to want to correct some things for stability and flexibility. My goal? I want to be able to do the manoeuvres I did before my accident, maybe do  amazing airs.. why not?

I'm a surfer like the others, I don't want to be esteemed because I am disabled, I am an athlete first of all. And I want to be able to finish my foot. And I want to build feet for people like me. It's funny, went to Padang four-years-ago, lost my leg and the other day, after four years, I was in Padang inside my first tube.

Cover shot by Liquid Barrel