Justin Firgaira on being down for a four wave count
On Wednesday night Swellnet received a request from South Australian bodyboarder and filmmaker Brad Halstead. A few hours earlier Brad had been surfing Knights Beach with mate Justin Firgaira when Justin was knocked unconcious and dragged from the water.
Though he was underwater for four waves, Justin was OK, but he could remember little from the wipeout.
Swellnet has a surfcam at Knights, thus Brad's request: Did we have footage of the wave?
We retrieved the footage which made its way to Brad and Justin, and then also had a chat with a still tender Justin about his brush with mortality.
Swellnet: It's been 24 hours since the accident, how are you feeling?
Justin: OK. Better than I expected. I'm just hanging out now.
The video makes for grim viewing. Have you watched it?
Yeah. I've watched it a couple times. I'm underwater for about 58 seconds.
Which is shocking. The surf isn't huge, the wipeout, at least on the face of it, doesn't seem particularly bad, yet you're underwater for four waves. Talk us through it, how long had you been out in the surf before it went happened?
I'd probably been in the water for about three hours already. That was basically at the end of the surf. I was going in, I told Brad that was my last one.
How big would you have said the surf was while you were out there?
Oh, it was solid for Knights. About as big as it can hold. There were a few rogue ones washing through.
Reckon six foot would be a fair call?
Yeah. The camera angle always makes it look a lot smaller than what it actually is.
OK, so you made up your mind to go in and paddled into that set, which you went straight on.
I was looking at the right. There's a bit of a righthander that comes through every now and then after the sidewash passes. So I took off, but the sidewash was in front of me and had started to crumble, so I straightened out to try to outrun it, and that was obviously the wrong decision. I got the full impact of the pitching lip, it just laid it on me, and as far as I can guess my head hit the sand bottom and knocked me out.
Did you nosedive going down?
No, no. Though I can't really remember much, apart from the takeoff, and then...I mean, even parts of that surf I can't remember. I still got a bit of amnesia. I've been thinking about it and bits are slowly coming back to me now.
This morning, Brad showed me the footage and I was like, "OK. I actually remember the wave that it happened on." But between taking off and later, when I got pulled out of the water I don't remember anything.
No memory of being underwater?
What's the first memory after the incident?
Just being in the water and not knowing where I was, what was going on. I was like, "Where am I? What am I doing? Why are you holding me?"
And then being told of what happened. That's all. I had no recollection until they got me back up to the car and I started gathering my thoughts again. They said, "You went the right." And I'm like, "What do you mean I went the right?"
I just didn't remember actually catching the wave, really, until today.
Had you taken any water in?
I was coughing up a little bit, but surprisingly, not much. It wasn't too bad. I went to ER afterwards for the concussion and they checked my lungs and there wasn't much water in the lungs. It sounds pretty good. Getting knocked out was kind of a good outcome, my body held onto that air and my heart rate would've slowed down.
Do you have any marks on your body?
Yeah. The biggest graze, I'm guessing it's a sand graze, behind my right ear. So I'm guessing that's the impact that knocked me out. And I perforated my eardrum.
Yeah. I've got a hole in my left eardrum. The impact was from the right, hitting the sand with the right side of my head, and who knows how my ear got busted?
You said you were going in, how did Brad know to race in and help?
I've been speaking to him back and forth. He saw me catch the wave, probably not the wisest choice, but I took it and he's presumed that I've gone in. Then he just said he felt like something wasn't right. He kind of looked over, saw my board was still just bobbing up and down and I hadn't actually popped up.
Thankfully your leash held.
Yeah. You see my bodyboard come up and it's still attached to me at that stage, and then the whitewash comes over straight away. I've got no recollection of any of that happening, but looking at that footage you can see the bodyboard just floating up and down, and then Brad realises something isn't right and catches that wave in.
When he gets close to me the board unleashes above my arm and starts going toward the beach, but he kind of lands right on top of me, and then, about a couple of seconds later, I float to the surface right near him and that's when he just grabs me.
It pays to have alert friends.
Yeah, 100%. Definitely yeah, in those sorts of situations for sure. We always go surfing by ourselves as well. You do solo trips. You go down whether someone else is in the water or not. You kind of head out. It's just what surfing is about.
Have you had any mortal thoughts about what could have been?
I'm kind of just not really thinking about it too much. I mean, the chances would have been pretty high. But, who knows? I might have just come to by myself and wondered, "What the hell just happened?"
Then again, the chances of that are pretty slim. Apparently I wasn't blue yet, I was still white, but if it wasn't for him finding me and shaking me...
Family and friends? How have they reacted to it?
They're all good. My wife's really good about it. She's supportive. She's a nurse, so she's looking after me now, keeping an eye on side effects, concussions. I showed her the footage, how long I was underwater, and it's kind of still a bit of a shock/denial thing.
But yeah, she's good.
Great to hear you're doing well, Justin.