Justin Firgaira on being down for a four wave count

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

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?
Absolutely none.

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.

As well?
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.
Thanks, mate.

Comments

jasper99's picture
jasper99's picture
jasper99 commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 11:13am

Hats off to Brad for the quick reactions.....saved his life due to the fact if he weren't there at the time Justin's leash came off then Knights doesn't have the clearest of water so he may have been lost underwater for much longer....Heavy wave and heavy situation. Well done lads.

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 11:19am

Wow. Yeah, two things: how awesome is the body to standby like that to preserve life; and yes, that is why it's so important to watch your mates -focus on surfing, rather than competing...

Just never know when this stuff's going to happen.

Glad you're alive Justin.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 11:24am

Bloody lucky the bloke's mate was paying attention and looking out for him (Ape, totally agree).
If you're reading this Justin, take care of that noggin for a good while mate; last thing you want to do now is stack concussions - take it from a stranger who's been there and done that and is dealing with some of the longer term consequences.

For the rest of us, good motivation to make sure we know what we're doing re rescue techniques and first aid. Could be one of your mates!

He who hesitates is lost

derra83's picture
derra83's picture
derra83 commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 11:27am

My jaw's on the floor. Few names I haven't heard of for a while and I'm glad to be reading them under this scennario and not the alternative.

rogerdodger's picture
rogerdodger's picture
rogerdodger commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 11:31am

Some serious footage there. Think you better buy Brad and the crew a beer Justin.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 11:35am

So heavy. Top effort on Brad and the others for keeping an eye out and then rushing in to help.

Hope you're not too rattled, Justin.

Tim Bonython's picture
Tim Bonython's picture
Tim Bonython commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 12:12pm

Heavy, lucky they noticed and not a second set came thru in that time.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 1:28pm

epic scramble that saved a life.
back your instincts if something doesn't feel right and make sure they are OK.

Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 2:10pm

Now just wondering if the guys were local or from elsewhere three hour surf and all fatigued?Use the local hostpital?Victor Harbor is the closest isn't it?Not wanting to be a doomsayer but in the age of the Covid this is what staying in your area and not having to use the limited resources of said coastal town for your must needed exercise. Good outcome though could of been tragic

Balls of fire

AndyM's picture
AndyM's picture
AndyM commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 2:50pm

So heavy.
A few big "what-ifs" there.

What if old mate's cord had broken one wave earlier?
What if other fella had arrived one wave later?
What if the same other fella had been less observant?

On a tangent, I'm curious as to why that last guy just stayed hanging out the back.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:02pm

I'm also curious, is that closeout considered a surf spot?

whats the attraction?
no offence, just wondering why bone crunching closeouts on shallow sand are being surfed.

jasper99's picture
jasper99's picture
jasper99 commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:07pm

Yeah its a spot mate. Probably looks a bit ugly in the footage but can get fun for sure. Granted lots of close outs though......

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:10pm

Looks like the odd one would form a decent wedge?

He who hesitates is lost

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:23pm

Ramps

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:20pm

Knights looking a little more attractive.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:24pm

Can see why the boogers would like it!

He who hesitates is lost

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:27pm

Surfed it once and got my arse handed to me. Not really my kinda wave.

AndyM's picture
AndyM's picture
AndyM commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:21pm

You'd be farting sand for a week after surfing there.

gingeryeti's picture
gingeryeti's picture
gingeryeti commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 9:37am

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:32pm

It's pretty tricky on a stick. Better suited to lidding.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 3:34pm

Glorified closeouts. There's even other names for the closeout. Gassies is the right more to the right, and a few others ha.

zambezi's picture
zambezi's picture
zambezi commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 4:35pm

I remember being a grom back in the mid 70’s.
My big cousins were very competent body surfers and
they would drive me and my brother around victor showing
us all the spots - the dump, chiton, boomer etc. Knights was
the Mecca for body surfing. I will never forget seeing them
out there, bunched in a huddle waiting for the wedge off the
rocks, which would put them in the perfect position for a quick
barrel and pullout. Good memories.

boogiefever's picture
boogiefever's picture
boogiefever commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 4:44pm

Always get goosebumps watching footage of a fellow waverider being a mere bees dick away from a becoming a statistic. Great job on being aware and alert of ur fellow boogers..... Yewwwwww!!

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 4:51pm

Onya fellas. Regardless of whether they're mates or not, good to see blokes looking out for each other.

1173

Roystein's picture
Roystein's picture
Roystein commented Friday, 24 Apr 2020 at 8:39pm

Heavy
Great outcome, look after yourself in recovery. Blunt reminder and prompts a review of first aid and CPR

mick-free's picture
mick-free's picture
mick-free commented Saturday, 25 Apr 2020 at 8:11am

Well done to the crew for looking out for each other!

Mick Free FIFOFOMO

Mecco's picture
Mecco's picture
Mecco commented Saturday, 25 Apr 2020 at 1:39pm

This is the best news story of the week.
As many of you know, Victoria has just had a tragic event where four police officers lost their lives. That's bad enough, but it is alleged that the driver involved not only took videos of the carnage and shared them with friends but did not offer any help or support to one of the police officers before she died. To cap it off he left the scene.
The callousness of this behaviour is truly chilling, so I was moved to read about Brad and his mates helping Justin. Thank you for restoring my belief that we show our best sides when helping others.
From a fellow lidder, I hope you get back in the water soon, Justin.

NDC's picture
NDC's picture
NDC commented Sunday, 26 Apr 2020 at 7:40am

OMFG - This story bought back memories of blacking out after hitting my head on a sandbank 30 odd years ago

Justin, so glad you escaped this and brad deserves a medal - pls follow through on your wife’s and all medical team’s advice for your recovery vigilantly

As a 20 year old man at the time Of my accident I thought I knew better and didn’t do much if the physio that was recommended - although cognitively I’ve always felt 100% i have a stiff neck that doesn’t move like it once did - makes backhand surfing, reverse parking and other bits and pieces harder .... Ntg major but I feel if I listened to the experts ...

Plus the consequences of head knocks can be mysterious - sounds like ur great and going to be fine ... but the docs now more and are incredible

Well done everyone

Col Bernasconi's picture
Col Bernasconi's picture
Col Bernasconi commented Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 10:18am

Another poignant reminder to look out for fellow surfers (and peeps)- well done Brad. Sniffed it out... Geat outcome.

aussieguy's picture
aussieguy's picture
aussieguy commented Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 10:28am

Wondering if a helmet would have helped?

the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn commented Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 10:30am

Jeez, that's too close. Knights has always been a nasty wave, like Ben, I surfed it (bodysurfed after dreaming I was Cunningham) once - 1990, and never again. It's a wave that demands respect and me, no doubt like you, sometimes underestimate this of many waves. So...

Always surf with a mate - if you are Han Solo, say G'day to someone in the water, a snarl never works, sunshine always does

Do underwater work - go out into the surf and practice holding your breath under a set a few times a year. Don't underestimate how quickly we lose 'the feel'.

Be alert - Watching that footage you see Brad and those in the water acting within 2mins, that really is brilliant. Err on the side of caution, as did Brad.

Possibly the 'Four-Wave Count' is the most important Swellnet Dispatch we've had for some time. Thanks, Stu.

The U Turn
...a little Aloha goes a long way.

jasper99's picture
jasper99's picture
jasper99 commented Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 1:39pm

Agreed mate. Loads of people underestimate Knights and pay the price.
I've seen lots of accidents over the years there, broken legs,backs and necks,Dislocated shoulders,perforated ear drums,near drownings oh and a kangaroo swim out twice and almost drown itself there!

aussieguy's picture
aussieguy's picture
aussieguy commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 9:39am

Those are some serious injuries! Is the wave worth charging that hard?
Must be a gnarly line up if you also have to jockey with the native wildlife!

jasper99's picture
jasper99's picture
jasper99 commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 12:10pm

It’s not so much about charging as you put it rather just being unlucky with wave choice, manoeuvre choice or even the way you try exit a ride are the main factors.
A lot of people I’ve seen out there aren’t ready for it and it can kick your arse if you’re one of those people.....growing up I was shit scared of it and it still amazes me watching the amount of water in some of those wedges.
As far as the wildlife goes that kangaroo got spooked by people running along the cliff line and jumped down the cliffs(about 25-30 feet)and bolted straight into the surf and twice I got it to the beach after a long struggle and fortunately it didn’t try a third time and was rescued by the local rangers at the time. Was a weird experience

backyard's picture
backyard's picture
backyard commented Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 4:34pm

At first you can't see how it will be 4 waves. The rip was holding him in the impact zone.
Good crew.
And his wife's a nurse!

backyard

JohnN's picture
JohnN's picture
JohnN commented Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 6:11pm

Would a Gath helmet be a good idea given that prevention is generally better that cure?

aussieguy's picture
aussieguy's picture
aussieguy commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 9:26am

A helmet is always a good idea but not many are worn. Just have a look around in the line up and you just don't see them. Is it because they're not cool? Interesting that in the snowboarding world, wearing a helmet is pretty standard.

The Fire's picture
The Fire's picture
The Fire commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 8:28pm

Holy shit!

Bullet dodged for sure justin, dude that was hard to watch.

Brad, wow great job man!

And everyone else that helped, well done.

Peace

mattlock's picture
mattlock's picture
mattlock commented Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020 at 9:29pm

Justin's story is on ABC news now, including Swellnet footage. There is mention of "rolling surf".

JohnN's picture
JohnN's picture
JohnN commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 11:42am

Yes I'm sure many surfers don't wear a helmet because it is not considered cool but if it avoids a severe head or spinal injury especially surfing a wave like that then I would have thought appearance was of little consequence.

Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw commented Friday, 1 May 2020 at 4:42pm

Glad the guys OK and awesome effort from his mates who saved his life. I have a helmet&often wear it in small or large surf. But I think going head first into almost dry sand under a no-exit 6foot close-out you will be concussed no matter what

Cucans's picture
Cucans's picture
Cucans commented Wednesday, 6 May 2020 at 9:47am

Brad you big legend! Nicest guy and great surfer! I've seen some heavy things happen out there, nearly drowned a few times myself. My friend dislocated his shoulder out there a couple of months back. It's a heavy wave and if you don't know what you're doing give it a miss. Glad you're OK Justin!

warrianha

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Tuesday, 19 May 2020 at 3:42pm

Wide range of waves at Knights today.

Lots of this:

Occasionally this:

And then sometimes this:

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Sunday, 24 May 2020 at 2:54pm

Very similar rock dynamic to Fingal Dreamtime.(Pulls in the swell also!)
Fingal Boogerz skate the Ramp Bowl out & then hook the zip line off a drainer.
Flips them up in the air then mate joins in to ride sidesaddle down the beach.
Basherz crumple their hands on the dry bed then cannonball the zipline.
Boardriders hug the shoulder & ride high or get slapped down real hard & fast.

This is a great story! Brad was smart to notice that tombstoning is a distress signal!
Crew wish them well..

Salute swellnet ...here's that [ABC] News Article...a great companion - well done all.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-29/surfer-rescued-from-knights-beach...
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-29/12198738?nw=0

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 10 Jun 2020 at 5:55pm

Impressive A-frames happening at the moment.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 17 Jun 2020 at 7:35am

Lucky surfcam grab this morning, peaking out beyond the wedge.