While on a trip with the Hurley team surfing Barra de la Cruz in Oaxaca, Mexico, a spill that seemed like so many he had had before, turned tragic.
"I had just jumped out through a little keyhole in the rocks and a guy was paddling for this wave and missed it," Simpson explains. "I was more inside, so I took off pretty late and air-dropped. When I hit the flats, my front foot slipped off, while my back foot stayed on and it just...I've had it happen before, where I just rolled out of it, but this was kind of suckier barrel wave; I just put more pressure on [the knee]."
For nearly a full month, he was out of the water, recovering from a grade 1 medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear. Simpson is back in the water and he's slowly regaining the form that has made him one of the most exciting surfers on Tour. He says the knee is starting to feel good, but he's just eight sessions removed from the couch.
"At first I was a little hesitant, just the weird feelings in the back of my mind, knowing how it happened, the pain I felt," he says. "But every session I feel like I can push it more and more."
Simpson is anxious to get back to hacking lip-lines.
©ASP 2011/Steve Robertson
Simpson will rejoin the Tour when competition reconvenes for the Billabong Pro at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa in mid-July, but he'll be putting the knee through its first competition paces at a ASP Prime event in Portugal, beginning next week.
"I'm not 100 percent yet, but I feel like I'm able to compete at a high level," Simpson said. "Sometimes I've done well when I've had injuries and other things on mind.
"It'll be good to get the jersey back on and get that feel," he continued. "I've done little practice heats, tried to mimic that setting, but you can't really recreate those moments that happen during those 25 or 30 minute heats."
Simpson started off the year with an equal-fifth finish at the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks in Australia, equaling his best finish while on Tour, but he followed that with what he called "the worst heat of my life," losing in the second round for equal-25th at the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach. He currently sits equal-21st in the rankings.
Third on the schedule was an event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at a spot with waves that struck Simpson as similar to his homebreak in HB. But injury struck. Though the time away from a surfing was a detriment to his career, Simpson acknowledges that it wasn't all bad.
"I got to spend time with my family and watch some sports that I otherwise don't get to watch which is good," he said. Simpson is rooting for the Miami Heat in the finals. He's more of a "player's guy," with no true allegiance to a team. He finds inspiration in the top guys, including his favorite player, LeBron James.
Just like James is still fidgeting with finding his groove on a new team, Simpson is still working to find a routine that works for him on Tour.
"Your first year [on Tour] it never hurts to get to an event early, to figure the wave out a bit, but every place is different," Simpson said. "If i dont get there early, maybe I'll be more hungry, or sometimes you'll get burned-out getting there early and you end up twiddling your thumbs [waiting for the contest to begin]. I try little things not to get irritiable about, but it's a 12-day window, and you just have to try to stay mentally strong. Then there's the mental side, where you're constantly learning how to compete in heats. You're learning your equipment, which boards for different waves."
While he's excited to surf the Tour's most punishing wave, Teahupo'o in Tahiti, and to see how the Tour's newest addition, the stop in New York, plays out, the Prime event in his hometown is also at the forefront of his focus. Simpson is the two-time defending U.S. Open of Surfing champion. The pier has been his homebreak since he started surfing, so he does feel some "homefield advantage."
"Not a lot of people in any kind of sport get a chance at the three-peat," he said. "It's an opportunity I'm going to relish."