Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Bodyboarder…

Early morning juice


If your name is Sean Fitzpatrick, O.J. Simpson, Grey Powell (the guy who ‘misplaced’ the prototype iPhone 4 before it was released) or Bethany Hamilton, you know just what losing something valuable feels like.

I thought that I would always be a surfer. Having started at the tender age of 14 and, in spite of a rash vest, having endured countless nipple rashes from a dinged-up, waterlogged 1980’s  6’7″  T&C on which I could never stand for more than 5 seconds, I convinced my grandmother to help me buy a 7’6″ mini-mal with an evolution nose. She also paid for few lessons with Bill Sharp.  Before long, I practically lived at the beach.  The aesthetic element of Longboarding captured my imagination and I bought my first +9 footer from Jason Ribbink in 2000 for R1300.

I went to uni in G’Town and spent the next 4 1/2 years surfing Port Alfred with a really good crew of guys.  Granted, I didn’t make it to the beach nearly as much as I’d have liked but I was on most of the good swells.  I was fit and enjoying my surfing. Life couldn’t have been better really.

Then I had the accident. Whilst hiking in Hogsback, I fell and dislocated my shoulder.  Due to  the remoteness of the location, I spent the next five hours with my shoulder out – stretching the ligaments.  Three months later, I went for a paddle  – admittedly dumb – with predictable consequences.  Port Alfred’s medical facilities aren’t exactly what you’d call state-of-the-art and I spent another three excruciatingly painful hours with my shoulder out of joint – more ligament stretching.

Six more dislocations (caused by simple activities like kicking a rugby ball or picking up a t-shirt) led me to undergo two painful surgeries in the hope of  getting back some semblance of normality with my shoulder.  After the surgeries came the biokineticist who helped restore some range of motion and strengthen the shoulder. The only problem was that the medical bills were getting super expensive and so it happened that I gradually became less and less motivated to get back in the water.

My confidence also took a huge knock. I found myself constantly debating whether I should take part in certain physical activities.  I had to decide whether my shoulder would handle it.  To put things in perspective: I couldn’t do a push up or pull up – I could feel the shoulder begin to ‘go’. One wrong move and I was in for a world  of hurt and the problem would be far worse if it happened in a remote area such as  halfway up the side of a cliff or even out at backline, so I wouldn’t even chance it.  Mountain biking, paddling, climbing, surfing and contact sports were no-go for me.  As a result, I gained a lot of weight and I was naturally excluded from a lot of group activities with my mates. In order to get fit again, I took up cycling and tried to put wave-riding out of my mind in general since I was convinced that there was no way that I would ever be able to survive in the surf. 

In the sweet spot!

All this changed one day, a few months ago, at uShaka. The idea of trying out SUPing had been growing on me for a while since it wouldn’t put too much strain on my shoulder and so I eventually rented a board and went out.  After a brief struggle, I managed to get up, paddle a few strokes and fall off.  With some practice, it was a viable option.

Then I talked to a lot of people.  Not only is a SUP board pretty damned expensive, but I would also more than likely need hard racks on my car – another R3k.  Not on my salary.  Furthermore, SUP’s tend to be heavy and cumbersome and, perhaps most importantly for me, was how much I would be hated.  Even as a longboard rider, I knew very well that I wasn’t all that popular amongst the thruster crew – especially on small days. I could only imagine that, as some chunky pie-eater standing atop what is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified goat-boat who could see waves coming miles away,  catch them further out and who has significantly less control over his board than the average minibus driver has over his taxi, I would be as popular as a pork chop in a synagogue.  Not that I have anything against either SUPers, taxi-drivers or Jewish people.

Then one Saturday morning, I was speaking to a friend’s father who listened to my plans and suggested that I consider bodyboarding. Yes, yes, I know.  I wouldn’t necessarily be Mr. Popular, but what choice did I have?  Bodyboards are small, lightweight, not easy to ding or snap and I could keep mine in the car – ready for a wave before or after work.  You propel yourself with your legs so no problem with the shoulder and lastly, they happen to be affordable.  At first, I wasn’t stoked about the idea but I had to admit, it seemed the most practical to do.

Two months on and I am loving it! I’m finding myself organizing my timetable around surfing – I’ve worked out the times that I can grab a wave – little one to two hour slots where I would otherwise be wandering around aimlessly or lying on the couch attempting to eat my own bodyweight in Cashew nuts.  I have even started my own surf report with Although bodyboarding doesn’t quite bring me the same stoke as surfing did (sorry fellow tea baggers) much of it is there and now,  if I’m ever unable to bodyboard due to injury, I’d honestly rather tupperware around than be out of the water again.

And so, unlike the people mentioned earlier, I am one of the lucky ones.  I get to recover, at least mostly, the experience of riding waves.  The stoke is back and it’s here to stay. So then, I guess I’ll see you in the surf.

Keep on Truckin’
Surt Factory.