Surf Is Up… After Open Heart Surgery!!!

By Adam Pick on March 6, 2007

On December 21, 2005, nearly 435 days ago, I had open-heart surgery to fix a congenital defect in the aortic valve of my heart.  After thirty four years of life, my bicuspid aortic valve which suffered from stenosis and regurgitation, needed to be replaced.  As many of you know, this open-heart medical operation (known as the Ross Procedure) triggered a series of challenging lows (e.g. cardiac depression) and a series of memorable highs (e.g. my engagement to Robyn).



Well… Two days ago I experienced another memorable high that I wanted to share with you – my friends, family and blog subscribers.

“What happened?!” you wonder as you see my smiling, much in need of a shave, face.

This past Saturday, I dug my dusty, nine-foot, eight-inch McTavish surfboard out of the garage. Then, I reached into the dark corner of my closet and grabbed my RipCurl wetsuit.


It was time to complete my physical recovery from open heart surgery.

It was time to surf again.

The day was a surfers dream. Sunny, with just a few swooshes of cloud in the blue skies above. I think the high in Los Angeles on Saturday was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Pacific Ocean held to its name. It was symbolically calm and glassy.

And the waves…

The waves were as playful as a six-week old puppy. Perfect for a longboarder like me…

Or, more accurately, perfect the longboarder I remembered to be (prior to my surgery).



With booties strapped on, I entered the cold, salt water with no expectations.

This would be my first time on a surfboard in eighteen months. This would be the first time that my new heart would experience a surfing adrenaline shot. This would be the first time that my stitched sternum would feel forces controlled by the one-and-only mother nature.

Come to think of it, I was a surfing virgin again.

Fear and anxiety bubbled up as my chest smacked down on the white, waxed fiberglass board. I started to paddle.

“As long as I don’t break,” I thought to myself, “Everything will be fine.”

Fifteen feet into my initial paddle, however, that thought transformed.

There was no pain in my chest. There was no discomfort in my nine-inch scar. There were no heart palpitations that I could feel. There was nothing but a boundary-less emotion of joy. 🙂

Chilly water splashed overhead as I slipped through an oncoming wave. More chilly water from the next wave and the next. About a minute after entering the water, I was outside the breaking waves amongst the other surfers in the line-up.

“Is this really happening?” I thought to myself. “This must be some kind of wonderful dream.”

I tested my chest once again.

Using my hands, I thrust my body upward to strike the traditional, surfer pose you see as you drive along Pacific Coast Hawaii in Malibu – butt on the board, legs on the side, chest slumped but upright, eyes gazing to the water’s horizon.

Again, no pain…


“Don’t get cocky Adam,” I thought to myself, “Take it easy… You did not come out here to go nuts. Just get used to your surfboard. Paddle around a little. Then, call it a day. You’ve been through a lot.”

Needless to say, those thoughts disappeared.

In its place, came an empowering voice that screamed aloud, “LET’S HAVE SOME &$^%*#@ FUN!!!”

In the distance, I saw a friendly mound of bulging water that was going to peak about twenty feet to my right.

Instinct took over.

The time was now.

The hunt was on.

Nanoseconds later I was paddling to the peak.

“GO! GO! GO! GO! CHARGE! CHARGE! CHARGE!” the empowering voice was now yelling in my head. Like a windmill, my arms circulated, cutting through the water, powering me forward.

And then it happened….

The water’s energy transferred to my board.

The need to paddle disappeared.

I angled to the right.

There was only one thing left to do…

One thing.

My internal cheerleader rose again and rang-out, “UP!”

I lept to my feet.

I was surfing again.



I would spend the next 45 minutes frolicking in the water with Jeff. (Jeff recently had a heart attack and had three stents inserted. Already, two months into Jeff’s recovery, he’s surfing. How incredible is that?!)

The magic of the day extended when thirty dolphins or so showed up to celebrate with us.

We had our own surf party to celebrate my recovery and my belated 35th birthday.

Thanks to each of you for your support and encouragement. I’m not sure where I would be if not for your love and help during my recovery!!!

Keep on tickin!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Mark Saunders says on March 6th, 2007 at 11:19 am

I emailed you about a week ago via the Ross group. I’m a fellow surfer and as you may recall i was surfing again six months or so after my Ross.
So glad to hear you’re back at it again. Water here is getting back up to the 50’s so i’ll be in the surf again soon.
Again, Congrats!! Its a great feeling, isnt it???


Adam Pick says on March 6th, 2007 at 11:43 am

Ohhhhhhhh Yahhhhhhh.

I remember!

In fact, you were my inspiration.

Seriously, after reading your note I got so fired up. I knew I could do it. I was just afraid. Well, that fear is gone.

Can’t wait til daylight savings so I can paddle out before work!

Thanks so much!


Arvind says on April 26th, 2008 at 10:18 am

I went through a valve replacement surgery around six weeks back. Right now I am in cardiac rehab.I spend half of my day crying. I just can’t get over with my depression. I am a documentary film maker. I was in the middle of two productions when I almost collapsed. Everything happened so quick that I didn’t get a chance to prepare myself for this long term inactivity. Now when I see my camera glaring at me, I feel the pain of my helplessness. I am coming off my upper body restrictions but still not able to pick up the camera. This disease gulped down my career as a pilot at the age of 20 and now I feel that I am losing the battle again at the age of 38. I have been a fighter all my life and now I feel very low. On top of it I feel very detached from family and friends. I don’t feel belonged to anything or anyone. If I lose my ability to make films I am sure I will lose myself completly. Your post has given me some hope but I am still very skeptical……Thanks for sharing

mercy turan says on April 30th, 2008 at 12:08 am

Arvind, I read with interest your note of April 26,2008. I am the mother of John Turan who had a Ross procedure, same as Adam, March 5th, one week before yours? You can type his name in the search box and you can read about that. I don’t know how old you are, but as a mother, I am going to encourage you to be patient and wait, wait, wait. Everyone is different, you will not recover at the very same rate as anyone else, because, we are all made so beautifully similar, but so wisely different. You will pick up your camera again, because, as of today, I am praying for you (even thought I do not know you), I am not praying for things to speed up (again we are all made just a little bit different) but for you to be strong and patient. God knows exactly how much time each one of us needs to get back in shape, but we don’t, and we shouldn’t guess. It may feel now like you will never get over this, but also as a nurse, I can tell you that from ANY surgery, even the simplest one, you can expect you will not feel as your old self for at least 3 months, depending on the surgery even longer. So, imagine open heart surgery. You have to give it time. Where is your support team? Try not to push them away. Where are you recovering, far away from or close to your family?

John also lost his ability to fly at about age 25, when he couldn’t get a doctor to sign for him to get his ticket. He turned his enthusiasm towards something else and began diving and doing other water sports that he was “allowed” to do. This was most difficult because he grew up in a family of pilots, but he did it well, either that or he fooled everyone!

Most recently, during his recovery, he had the same problems, unable to pick up either one of his two children, ages 1 an 2, or to help his wife, who works full time as a nurse and is also going to graduate school, unable to even open the refrigerator to get juice or milk out, but, he had read Adam’s book, and he knew from Adam and from all of you who share your experience in this blog, that it would pass. And that gave him extreme hope.He also began passing his time with the things he could do, and baked and decorated a cake in the shape of an airplane for his son’s 2nd birthday, with such success, that he then baked and decorated ,without special cake pans, a cake for my birthday in the shape of a huge heart! It seems unimportant, but a huge success for someone who couldn’t bake at all before. And an accomplishement at any rate.

Find something to do that you can physically do to pass the time while you recover, and do it with the greatest effort, knowing that your inability to do what you did before is only temporary–check out Adam diving, others playing tennis, Sergio (Maribel & Sergio on the search box) going back to work and he usual life. etc. Most of all, surround yourself with positive people. Every time you say to yourself “I am losing the battle” replace it with “I am alive and made it through that super complicated surgery, so I am winning the battle”. If you haven’t read Adam’s book yet, get it and read it. If you have, read it again. Go to the part where he had to get some counseling, in case you forgot.

Cheering for you, and a great recovery, slow as it may be. God Bless You.
Mercy, mother of John

Maribel says on April 30th, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Arvind: Please try not to feel so discouraged!! You are going to be great!!! You are 38!!! I can imagine what a perfect young guy you must be!! Believe me you will be taking pictures and filming in no time. My husband Sergio (you can look out his story as Mercy told you put Sergio and Maribel in the search box) thought his recovery was going to be long and painfull and it wasn’t because he had in mind all the time he had a project that was waiting for him so he had always a motivation to recovery. You need that motivation to go on with your life. Cardiac Depression is very common as our friend Adam says in his wonderful book so you are going to be fine. I know you might say “what does she know about it” believe me I was scared my husband had cardiac depression and so every day we made it different, one day he watched TV in our room and the next in the TV room, one day we ate on the garden and so.. this is my better piece of advice: MAKE EVERY DAY DIFFERENT, get distracted with something, look out for things in the web that are new in your buisness and that in your every day life you don´t have the time to check them out, get someone to buy you a puzzle, reorganize stuff, papers, photos, at your house you never have time to do: GET DISTRACTED. Dear Arvind I hope my words can help you, this is a small interruption in your successfull life take it as it is, you will be laughing at this in the future. Go super film maker!!!Shoot!!! You can do it!!!! Send you our best thoughts for your recovery.

mercy turan says on May 6th, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Checking up on you. How are you doing? How’s your upper body cardiac rehab? Please remember to be patient for “this too, will pass”.Would like to hear from you on this blog site. Mostly I would like to read that you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. If not, I am ready to encourage you! As Adam says: “Keep on tickin'”. It is ticking, isn’t it? Hey, that’s a great plus! Mercy, mother of John.

T says on June 9th, 2008 at 9:30 am

I’m 39 years old and 7 weeks past my surgery. I had my bicuspid aortic valve replaced an an aortic aneurysm repaired. I have 2 children, ages 6 and 2. The toughest thing for me mentally in my recovery has been the inability to pick the kids up and wrestle with them. I was playing in the driveway with my 2 year old the other day when he fell and scraped his knees. I wanted so badly to pick him up, it brought me to tears. I’m not sure who was crying more, him or me. I got on my knees and hugged him for what seemed like 10 minutes. He knows I have “boo boos” and can’t lift him up. After the hug, he looked at me, and said, its ok dad, when your boo boos are better, you can pick me up. I can’t wait. I definitely share your feeling of helplessness at times. Hang in there, it will get better. Maybe you could get a small handheld camera and work on smaller projects until you get your strength back. I am an avid golfer and while I can’t swing a club yet I have been spending a lot of time on the putting green. All the best in your recovery, T.

Wade says on August 11th, 2008 at 10:59 am

Adam: I have an appointment scheduled with a surgeon for August 20th. I have the same symptoms as you did and just had my heart catheterization to confirm everything. My cardiologist did not mention the Ross Procedure when we first consulted and I think that is the option I would want. Are there any particular reasons why they would not want to offer the procedure. I am an avid recreational athlete and waterski regularly. I hope I can get back in the water next spring.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Troy says on September 2nd, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Adam; I just turned 46 last week. I have had 3 open heart surgeries in the last 5 years. My first was the ross procedure. As an athelete and still competitive surfer, Im not sure the ross procedure was the best surgery as an athelete. I was told that the pulmonic valve could not handle the pressure on the high maintenance side. Surgery 2 was done 2 years after the ross procedure. This surgery was a repair, yet another open heart surgery. Surgery 3 was 2 months later and required a mechanical valve. A lifetime of blood thinners, medications and Dr. visits. I would love to talk with you, maybe share some waves. Thanks for the website, This will bless alot of people. Troy from H.B.

RANGARAJAN A L says on November 7th, 2008 at 12:56 am

Hi Arvind

I am from India – had an Aortic Valve Replacement surgery done in Feb 08 in Harvery Heart Foundation, Chennai – No doubt I was initially depressed but as Mercy Turan says everything passed. I am avid learner of carnatic Flute which I intend to take up again and I am planning to take up my GYM workouts again (subject to of course certain restrictions that may be be suggested by my doc) shortly. You want to know how old I am? – I am 55 years old! I walk 5 kms five times during the week.

CHRISTIAN VAN SCHEPEN says on November 14th, 2008 at 11:59 am

Good Day to All!
I’m 46, had a Ross procedure at 33, still going strong with NO complications. My surgeon was a genius, the post depression I was pretty sure was caused by coming down from several morphine dosages during the operation.

toughest thing was getting back to sleep after the surgery, ticking clock worked great, stay off the sleeping pills…

It’s a longish story, humorous in many places, scary in others. I work out daily, but more importantly than eating and working out, I work on my thoughts and myself. Negative thoughts are the world’s greatest killer…


CHRISTIAN VAN SCHEPEN says on November 14th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Arvind. Fear not, I cried for weeks after the surgery, spontaneously, and for no reason I could fathom. Think however, your body was violated (albeit for a good cause), you were sedated with morphine (read case studies on coming down off THAT stuff) and you’ll understand. Try to stay away from sleeping pills, use a noisy ticking clock if you have sleeping issues (took me 10 days to figure that out and I almost died from lack of REM sleep) because your bodily rhythms have been disrupted. Cry anyway, you are also helping clear toxins (like morphine) from your system while you do.

Everything will be great, I assure you. 6 – 8 weeks, you’ll be carrying pianos around (OK maybe not, but you’ll be fine)

julie says on December 8th, 2008 at 3:41 am

Hi Mr. Adams, I am a bit confused here. In one of your article said, “Jason’s 26 year old heart valve, bjork-shiley mechanical valve stay put”. But re-reading your article it is mentioned you has open-heart surgery and valvular replacement in Dec. 21 2005? Which is which Mr. Adams? A 26 year old prosthetic bjork-shiley valve or 3 year old bjork shiley prosthetic valve? Thank you for clarification.

Helen says on December 29th, 2008 at 1:53 pm

As one recovering from CABG x4 six weeks ago, and longing to get back onto a tennis court, I was thrilled to hear your description of getting back to surfing. How intense that must have been! Your description is poetic. Well done!

Steve Varro says on January 10th, 2009 at 3:16 am

Dear Adam:
Today is January 10, 2009. On January 15th I am going to have my aortic valve replaced. I have never had any serious illnesses, and certainly did not know of any heart problems until a murmur was discovered and upon further testing they found that I had a leaky aortic valve caused at birth. I have been overly tired for several years. This discovery confirmed the reason. I understand the success rate of this operation is high, but after reading some of the other forums on the internet, I am filled with fear and anxiety. I am a married, 59 year old, magician and my biggest fear (other than the possibility of death) is that my career is over. At this point I do not think I have time to get and read your book. Just reading of your experience online has been inspiring to me. as have the comments posted here. Congratulations on being able to surf again. It gives me hope to be able to perform again.
Thank you,

Ellen says on April 21st, 2009 at 4:49 am

Hello Adam
I was delighted to read of your return to surfing, as I shared all the same thoughts and feelings on returning to playing the bagpipes four months after having OHS. Four months after that, I competed in the World Pipe Band Championships in Scotland and was overjoyed to be part of the scene again. It’s now less than a year and a half after surgery and my main problem is lack of physical energy. I feel completely exhausted after any kind of exertion and wonder if others have experienced the same thing? I did go through a very down period for a while, but am now feeling quite positive apart from the low energy.
Thanks and happy surfing!

Connie says on July 29th, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Hi Adam!

I sent you an email some few months back and told you about my upcoming surgery for Mitral Valve Replacement. You so kindly sent me your book online.

July 16th, exactly two weeks ago I had my surgery. I am doing well, but seem to be overly tired and in some decent pain at times. (Thank God for Vicodin!)

I came home and re-read your book to compare to my own experience and it was close, but some differences as well.

There were some things your book helped to prepare me for, and for that I am forever in your debt!
I hope this finds you doing well! AND I hope I am on my way to recovery. This has been one more hell of a ride!

carolyn barney says on September 6th, 2009 at 9:22 am

Hello again Adam, I just found your blog, and have learned so much. The emails to you and between people all over the world are so wonderful. They bring a sense of mutual caring and peace despite our various trials. I just found out that I have an insufficient aortic artery, and at some point will need a replacement. My question is when will I know it is time to go and have the surgery for aortic valve replacement?? I am very nervous and confused about this. I am a 65 yr. old woman, still working, and fairly active. I don’t know how hard to push myself physically, how much to exercise, or when to just relax and let my heart rest. Is there anything I can do to care for my heart which will delay the necessity of surgery? Is it wise to put off the surgery until symptoms become severe?? Your answer will be much appreciated. Carolyn

Eric Sanico says on October 14th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Hi! Adam, I just had the same kind of open heart surgery for mitral valve (prolapsed). I’m just trying to get more information from other surfers who had this kind of operation. As like you I do alot of surfing here in Nor-Cal-Santa Cruz, So. Cal Topanga and San Diego areas when I have the time to travel. I’m really jonesing to go surfing but was not given a time frame when I can get back to surfing. Any suggestions out there: e-mail
Aloha! Adam wishing you the best recovery of your life.

Bill Kennedy says on April 28th, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Iam soon to be 65 and will have bicuspid valve
Replace Wednesday april30 2014.
Have surfed all my life and hunted can’t wait to
get this over and get on with my Costa Rica trips
After reading the stories all I have to do is
get well Mind BodyAnd Soul.
No Fear ok maybe a little .
Bill Kennedy

digiro says on November 9th, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Just had the same procedure Sept 24, 2014, the day after my 53rd bday. I am now 6 weeks post operation and other than discomfort a few hours into sleep which is corrected by shifting positions and boredom sometimes during the day, I have no real problems and no depression. I plan on surfing by this December again in Costa Rico or maybe by Thanksgiving here on the east coast if I can get a wetsuit on. Good to hear you are back in the water…..what took you so long!!!!?

gatou says on February 1st, 2015 at 11:10 pm

Hi, I had a heart attack four years ago. They put a stent in me. Six months after I went to the gym and have been going regularly since then. I am now 40 and quite fit, if a bit lacking in endurance. You think I can still learn to surf and be safe?

Darrin Washburn says on April 3rd, 2017 at 9:53 am

Looks like no post in a while but I came across this due to my concerns about recovery and surfing again. I am 49 y/o male, on 2/27 I had a bental and aortic valve (mechanical) for Bicuspid Aortic Valve and Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm. I had complications of bilateral pneumonia and started to get septic in the weeks after surgery , despite being active and deep breathing. I am 6 weeks today and walking 3 miles daily and no where near the shape I was in prior to surgery. In fact, I have lost 23 lbs and most of it is muscle. I am “authorized ” to start at the gym next week…….. With no real plan in place, except what I read on the internet, which most seems spot on. What I want to know is when will I get back to surfing again? what is the average time frame? When I broke 5 ribs it took six months to lay on a board and paddle without pain, but I started at 4 mo and longboarded only on small days (in Fl that’s all the time). This recent procedure, to me, is way worse than broken ribs and I guess I just want a realistic expectation. I want to work towards the goal. I had to cancel my trip to Nicaragua due to this surgery……….. I am looking for answers from those who have “been there done that” because the Doc’s don’t give a straight answer when it comes to this.

Candas Elizabeth Jones says on May 14th, 2017 at 6:31 pm

I had horrible shoulder pain after the surgery. I totally thought as soon as I could move my thoracic spine, they would feel better. But no…found out on Friday that two muscles in my shoulder are torn. I had bicuspid valve replacement on Jan 3. The plan in physical therapy, then evaluate to see if I need surgery. One tear is pretty significant I am told by a few experts.

Jerry Ahern says on January 31st, 2018 at 12:46 pm

Hi Adam,
So I had open heart on 11/2/17. My mitral valve was repaired and I had a triple bypass. I start rehab this Friday. I feel ok except for the swelling in my foot from having the vein taken out and occasional bouts with hives which my doctor is unable to explain. My left lung still is retaining fluid. I am 67 years old and the only sport I have pursued is surfing. When do you think I can introduce this body back into the ocean? Currently I am on blood thinner do you think that would interfere with surfing?

Jerry Ahern says on March 22nd, 2018 at 1:17 pm

Hi Adam,
Doing better. Off blood thinners and water pill and doing rehab. I think May is when I’ll be back in the water.

Chris Topher Fennell says on August 1st, 2018 at 4:37 pm

I had two stints put in three weeks ago. I was in very good shape for a 52 year old. Now I wait until I can get back into the water. One doc does not want me to return, due to the blood thinners. I have no idea of when I can reenter the water. Any tips?

I am putting up a post on this topic for others surfers to read. Looking for more links on this.

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