I love the Ocean so much. But its almost killed me twice.
Being in the ocean , or even being near the Ocean feels good for my soul. Even though I live 5 minutes walk away from the beach, I find it very difficult to book a holiday or even a weekend away that is not near the ocean. If it cant be near the ocean , then surely it's not going to be going to be relaxing and fun.
So it's strange to think that the 2 of closest times Ive come to dying have all been in the Ocean.
Both times have been in pursuit of images.
Pain in the neck
The first time was a freak accident. Waves were small, and I was standing waist deep in water at Queenscliff beach . I was trying to capture a surfer on a wave, and as he carved off the wave in front of me, the fins of his surf board managed to catch my neck. An artery was severed, but I was lucky that the wetsuit I had on was tight around my neck and somehow kept the bleeding to a minimum, when i got to the local manly hosital, the first doctor who saw me , asked me to tilt my neck to the side, as I did this, a massive spray of blood covered him and the rest of the room . Its like it was waiting for the right moment . I'll never forget his words "Nurse - we need an ambulance now! " Not great words to hear a doctor say about you whist you are already in a hospital . I was rushed from Manly Hospital to Royal Northshore in an ambulance - and not once did the doctor who first saw me let go of the wound on my neck. I required emergency surgery to repair the artery that had been cut. It was a very scary experience.
The second time was not a freak accident, it was due to pure stupidity on my part.
Big swim and the Disco
One of my favourite things to do is to swim and shoot in waves that put me out of my comfort zone. There is nothing quite like bopping around in the ocean, with a bunch of surfers and boogers experiencing the thrill of massive waves bearing down on you. Its unpredictable , and its frightening at times. There is such an awesome vibe amongst the surfers, it hard to explain to people who havent been there. Every big wave thats caught - the surfers all whoop and holler when someone gets a good ride, especially a any barrels.But if you are careful , and know what you are doing, it can be excillirating. Of course its not as dangerous or scary as actually trying to surf these waves, if I had to try and catch some of the waves I see surfers going for I would be out of business for life.
My usual hunting ground is around the northern beaches, id love to have the time to travel further , but family life and commitments does not allow for this freedom. Its been a dream of mine to make it out to Shark Island during a large swell, and one day all the stars aligned and I got the opportunity to get to get down to Cronulla .The waves were huge, it was atleast 14ft., me and my friend nick were super excited.
It was only when I was on the beach did I realise I had left my fin savers at home. Its had been a long time since a wave had taken my fins , so I though I was safe.
We started the swim out to the point, and once we were about 100m out, a massive set of waves came bearing down on us.
As the first wave broke, I took a slow , but too slow dive below , and the wave smashed down straight onto my fins and ripped them from my feet. As someone who swims in the ocean with fins 99% of the time , it’s a horrible feeling . It’s almost like your legs are gone and you you have no power when you kick. Given you are also holding a heavy camera , it literally feels like you are swimming with one arm.
As I came up for air, i was greeted by the next wave in the set , and it had its way with me. I was tumbled and turned . By now I had lost sight of Nick and I was being rapidly washed down the beach. This is not a good thing, because its very unlikely you will be washed on to the beach, you are more likely to be taken into an outgoing rip, and taken out to sea. Without fins, 14ft waves, a lot of moving water and carrying a heavy camera, you are not in control of your destination.
It seemed like set after set was breaking on my head, and I was tossed about like a leaf. I kept drinking water, and I was fighting to try and keep my head above water. In white water, its so hard to keep your head up because there is so much foam. I know it was critical to not panic, and my I just pictured myself in a night club dancing on the dance floor. I could picture the music, and I pictures the coloured lights and the thumping music. I picked up this tip from watching Big wave surfer Ross Clark-Jones. I swear it saved my life because it look my mind off panicking. Thoughts of my children and family kept popping into my head but I kept pushing them out with doomp doomp music .
I could see a group of people watching me, and I knew they were helpless. But it was comforting to know I had someone out there who knew were I was.
I kept wondering when the right time would be to let go my camera and focus on saving my life. I managed to get pushed to the rocks and ocean pool , when my feet touched ground it was a huge relieve , but I knew the battle was not over yet. I had to be careful to not get smashed against the rocks because there was still huge amounts of water washing over the rocks and the rapidly washing out again . All it would take was a big wave, and my head on a rock for it to be all over. I desperately fought against the water, and it was really hard work to be kept from being washed out again. I inched closer and closer to the edge of the sea wall, where I knew I would be able to get some protection from the waves, as well as get some grip .
From the corner of my eye I saw 2 life guards running along the walk way along the sea front, it was a huge relief, although if I had been washed out Im not sure they could have done much. The water was wild, and I think even a rescue boat would have struggled to keep control.
I eventually made it to safety, my friend Nick and the life guards got to where I was and checked if I was ok. I lay on the ground with my eyes closed. I was exahusted. I was relieved.
I remember getting up and trying to walk up some stairs. My legs were like jelly I could barely walk . I wonder how much longer I could have fought for my life . This experience gave me a big wake up call.
Never rush . And always make sure you have the right equipment . It’s never a bad time for disco .