Losin' It (And Gettin' It Back Again)

Steve Shearer picture
Steve Shearer (freeride76)
Swellnet Dispatch

It's the one thing that unites all surfers, be they Joe Pro, weekend warrior, absolute beginner, or lifelong corelord. We all get hurt.

Time spent injured is time spent out of the water. Sooner or later you're going to cop it, and the more time you spend doing it, the more chance you will cop it good.

Knees and ankles sprain and tear, even when you're young and spritely. Aerials are brutal on ankles. Later on, the stress and strain shows on shoulders and backs. Hips give out. Elbows cop tendon sprains. Ears develop bony growths that need drilling. The easiest to deal with are sharp trauma injuries - fin cuts and reef wounds. Skin is an amazing healer, although bacterial infections often claim the last word in the tropics.

Cataloguing all the ways to get injured is a subject for a book and I intend to make a different but related point. That being: How you deal with these injuries, especially the chronic ones as you get older, will make or break you. It'll be the difference between getting fat on the couch or enjoying the shreds into Slater vintage years and beyond.

What follows is a personal journey, not medical advice. The hope is some of it will be common to all injuries and may be of benefit.

When you're injured, every empty wave adds to the torment (Photos Craig Brokensha)

The first order issue is pain. In my case, I injured my back rocking off. A samurai sword spike of pain in the lower back, then a horrible growing feeling of numbness, electrical jolts of nerve pain and muscle disability. I tried to sit and shake it off. It got worse by the minute. In the end, I couldn't paddle. Had to sidestroke in rescue style-along the length of the point and stumble up the rocks. By the time I got home, I couldn't get out of the car. The bass throb and the high-pitched nerve pain was just manageable under industrial quantities of Neurofen and Panadol.

Stupidly, it being the week before Christmas I got on the booze with a mate that evening, which dulled the pain beautifully until 3am the next morning.

Even more stupidly, a few days later, thinking things had settled a notch I spent an afternoon in the yard trying to fulfil promises I had made to get the joint ship-shape for Christmas. Mowing, clearing a fence line etc etc. I was ready for the opioids that night.

Pain control has risks and consequences. Opioids are crazily addictive and require long rehab if you do get hooked - a problem that can be bigger than the injury you are trying to ameliorate. Anti-inflammatories eat up the gut lining over the long haul. The safest course is to do what you can to reduce inflammation generally and limit painkillers to the bare minimum. Get off the booze is step one. Eat clean food with minimal crap like sugar and takeaways is step two.

Luckily for me, on that program my pain subsided to manageable levels within a fortnight. I could sleep at night and phased out the painkillers within a month.

The second order issue is getting medical treatment if required. Any acute or chronic injury is going to require dealing with the medical establishment. That can be a Kafka-esque nightmare journey in itself. I had little luck with the local GP. Despite being so crippled I couldn't walk a hundred metres without stopping he sent me home and told me to take painkillers as needed. It took a couple more visits before I more or less demanded a referral for an MRI, which he acceded to.

This is where the difference between a John John Florence dicky knee and a Joe Bloggs back injury becomes apparent. John will have access to the best medical treatment, whenever he needs it, at whatever the cost. I had access to Dr Google, and had to beg and plead for basic diagnostics like an MRI, which came out of my own pocket. Injuries ain't cheap.

The human body is complicated; injuries are idiosyncratic. Backs are a nightmare to diagnose correctly. Ideally you want medical opinions from experts who have dealt with that particular injury on that particular part of the body. Problem is, they tend to be specialists who cost an arm and a leg and are hard to get hold of, let alone get appointments to see. The battle to try and figure out exactly what is wrong, while haemorrhaging cash on medical procedures adds to the mental stress.

Fortunately, my MRI confirmed my Dr Google research. Herniated disc between L5 and S1 squeezing the nerve root which feeds the major neural pathway down the left leg. The pain was not an issue now. The problem was functional. Crippled, unable to surf. Muscle weakness. Depression and despair on the periphery, pushing in.

The GP recommended the spinal needle, which made no difference. Elevan weeks post-injury I was stressing. I finally got in to see a local physio who had experience with this injury. He took one look at the MRI and said, “I think you should get a surgical opinion”. My blood ran cold yet that transpired to be the turning point. He asked me if I had private health insurance, to which I replied in the negative. He then suggested I drive to the Gold Coast University Hospital, admit myself to emergency and not leave until a neurosurgeon had examined me.

I left in the dark and came home in the dark. It wasn't the most pleasant way to pass the time but it worked. A neurosurgeon called my name, looked at the MRI, poked and prodded me and said, “I think you will not need surgery. Give it two more months of conservative treatment and see how you go”.

The mental relief was enormous. In fact, the placebo effect of now not having to think about surgery may have been instrumental. There was rapid improvement in conjunction with physio and rehab.

Chronic injuries create mindset uncertainty. The reality is, there are season-ending, career-ending, hobby-ending injuries. We are biological creatures (for now) with limits and parts that wear down and break.

How to avoid fooling yourself? How to know if rehab is working? I took a simple approach to this quandary based on my science background. What can be measured can be managed. Every day at 10am I gave my injury a number out of 100. 0 is dead, 100 is full capacity, as good as it can possibly be. When I started three weeks post-injury I was at 26. Scores went up and down, on a slow incline before the surgical opinion and intense rehab. By the middle of March I was at 67. By the first week of May, on the two month mark set by the surgeon, I was at 77. Good enough to have a crack at getting back in the water.

Staying dry during that time wasn't easy. Being injured is boring, especially to other people. You become obsessed by this thing that no-one else wants to know about. Surfing is about doing it, being immersed. The participants - those doing it - don't care what the spectators think. Being rendered a spectator was humbling.

A few things really helped pre and during rehab. Walking was number one. We are bipedal hominids, evolved to walk the savannah of East Africa. Steps can be counted, every one of them moves you towards recovery. Before I could walk a hundred metres on dry land, I could wade in the lake in chest deep water, letting water density defeat gravity.

Random interventions came at opportune times. A rehab chiropractor from the South Coast took the time to reach out and send me a few emails, offering encouragement, expertise, and a broad pathway forwards. He helped me set weekly goals. If you are reading this, thanks a million.

Inspiration is where you find it. A morning walk at the point put me in contact with a local concrete cutter who had experience in rehabbing serious injuries. His overwhelming positivity led me to go home and write some simple affirmations, despite not really being a spiritual guy. Looking at these affirmations, putting a date on them every time a milestone was crossed was like hitting the accelerator on motivation and progress. My back is healing. I'm getting stronger. I can comeback better. It sounds like trite nonsense writing it down. It made a difference.

Coming back to surfing itself was a humbling affair. I was able to kneeboard a foamy to start, ride some babyfood peelers on a mal, with a pop-up that took half the wave. It was more of a slow climb up with more stages than the Tour de France.

I tried to surf a four foot day at one of the local points with a bit of ragged sideshore wind and backwash. I got so obliterated three waves in a row. It was back to the drawing board.

Finding surf gentle enough during a wet and wild la Niña autumn where blue water, offshore wind, and small surf just weren't on the menu was a curve ball thrown from nature. I couldn't rush it because I wasn't up to the task of surf over three foot. And it was over three foot day after day after day.

A grey, still Sunday afternoon finally presented itself. I ummed and ahhed, walked up and down the headland in a nervous state. The clock was ticking as the light drained quickly out of the deep autumn afternoon. Everyone came in. The hardest part was rocking off. It was more of a gentle, geriatric flop, off the front ledge. The second hardest part was popping up, past the pain points. A throaty little point wedge came to me on dark and I spun and stuck the drop on my feet, pulled a highline to speed run and simple cut-down on a voluminous 7'3”. Came in ecstatic.

May turned to June and Mother Nature came to the party. Endless swells and all day offshores. The 7'3” turned into a 6'6”, then a 6'3”, and a 6'1”. The program was a long warm-up, shorter surfs to avoid fatigue and plenty of stretching at night. Within the month, I was able to surf every day, doubles even, with no pain or hindrance.

I sat out a couple of big days then had a go at a six foot east swell. Everything still worked and the conditioning was up to the task after a long period of enfeeblement.

Father Time wins every war. We all end up in the pine box or the incinerator. Along the way though, how many good years, how hard you fight against the dying of the light, is largely up to you.

// STEVE SHEARER

Comments

Thegrowingtrend.com's picture
Thegrowingtrend.com's picture
Thegrowingtrend.com Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 12:20pm

Steve, thanks for sharing..
I also had a spinal surgery to replace C5 -C6 from a surfing injury. The power of positivity, daily pilates exercise and the desire to surf got me back into the water. Walking is also a special thing.

pigdogpaul's picture
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pigdogpaul Saturday, 6 Aug 2022 at 8:26am

Heavy mate, did you get total disc replacement? I’ve got a buldging c5 c6 now and trying to find my options

oxrox's picture
oxrox's picture
oxrox Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 12:35pm

That was great Steve. My surgeon gave me the green light to surf etc last week 4 months post spinal fusion to L5-S1. I was absolutely pumped until I tried a pop up on my yoga mat and couldn`t do it!!! Close to tears. Mind you I hadn`t been able to repetitive bend or twist for 4 months. 3 days of stretching has helped and I can just get my knee under my chest on the pop up now.
You are dead right about the injury consuming you. Always comes up in conversation.
Going to keep up the stretches now that I can twist and bend and hopefully be in the water soon.
Injuries that keep you out of the water for months are no fun that`s for sure.

linez's picture
linez's picture
linez Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 1:23pm

Stoked for you too, Ox. Keep going mate.

Sebamo's picture
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Sebamo Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 6:17pm

Yeah keep going mate. I had hyerlordosis so bad, I couldn’t put my wettie on without screaming in back pain. The short surfs in recovery make you be a lot smarter. Keep up the mobility work, and you’ll get back to 100%.

oxrox's picture
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oxrox Wednesday, 3 Aug 2022 at 7:31pm

Thanks Sebamo and Linez.

Had to google hyerlordosis Seb.

If you can come back from having that much of a hard time putting your wettie on and still surf there`s hope for me.

icandig's picture
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icandig Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 12:39pm

Aerials have never had any effect on my ankles. My heart muscle has taken a bit of a hit as I've aged though.

linez's picture
linez's picture
linez Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 1:21pm

I've mentioned it before, but sooo much of your experience I can completely relate to... the what-if's, the search for something that works, the fact that it's something that you constantly think about and in turn nobody really wants to hear...
Then the pure elation of just being able to paddle out is almost overwhelming.
Humbling for sure and it's a life now of looking after myself and maintenance, and yes I want it bad.
You don't realise what being able to surf - not just the riding a wave part, but all of it - means until it's taken away.
Genuinely stoked for you, I fully get it.

82shoes's picture
82shoes's picture
82shoes Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 2:37pm

Hi Linez, are you still on MB's program?
How are you holding up?

linez's picture
linez's picture
linez Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 3:17pm

Hey 82, yeah still on MB's program. Getting better all the time, surfing more regularly now and just trying to build some surf fitness. My takeoffs have suffered from being out of the water so long but it's coming good.
You?

82shoes's picture
82shoes's picture
82shoes Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 8:46am

That's good to hear mate
I want to get back on the program as i feel it does work
It got complicated when i had the knee op, hyperextensions were too painful. So saw a local surf physio and have been doing his program (with 90% success rate i guess)
I keep dropping hints to include MB's exercises in my program but it hasn't happened yet
Had to take a year off surfing and have been scoring well since with intermittent setbacks but not as bad

flow's picture
flow's picture
flow Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 1:26pm

Good work. Glad it all worked out for you.

brevil's picture
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brevil Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 2:28pm

Great read and thanks for sharing your journey with us as inevitability injuries can stop us from enjoying the ocean. Last year I had 8 months off due to rotator cuff operation, coming back was hard as my left arm and shoulder had no strength or co-ordination , but 15 months post op its really back to normal now. Pity I blew a hernia last week ....

82shoes's picture
82shoes's picture
82shoes Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 2:36pm

Too relatable FR
Hardest part is finding the real source of your individual situation, getting appropriate advice/treatment and then the mental challenges with each setback if you happen to re injure yourself (over and over in my case)
Worth coming back though

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 2:59pm

"Hardest part is finding the real source of your individual situation"

Aye. Gotta know what battle you're fighting.

brownie48's picture
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brownie48 Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 2:39pm

Just about every surfer goes through what you have written in various ways with many types of injury and every search for a cure is different, especially with lower backs

Now a couple of years on the wrong side of 60 and almost at the 50 year mark for riding a shortboard I wont bore you with the many, many injuries and surgeries except to offer you this old mans unsolicited advice for the younger crew

In your 20's you are bullet proof and bounce back really well. Not many issues here unless you are unlucky or have shit genes

In your 30's in when it usually starts to unravel, work/career, partner demands on your time and kids if applicable. Still thinking you are bulletproof but the decay has started and you have probably put on some kilos!

In your 40's is when it can really slip. This time is crucial to start getting your body in shape, especially your core and surrounding areas (glutes, quads, erector spinae, obliques etc) Dont brush it off at this stage

In your 50's is when some are slipping away and having trouble with fitness, getting to their feet, shoulder issues etc etc. Now this time is the usual age to start getting some personal time back to spend chasing waves and if you have done the right thing in the mid-late forties then you will reap the rewards as all the demands on your time start to slip away and you can surf a lot more

In your 60's, well the clock is ticking. Sure there are some good examples but a lot start to fall by the wayside now and maintenance is critical

Everyone is different and some do nothing and good luck to them. For old injured buggers like me its nothing to spend 1 - 2 hours just about every day doing rehab/maintenance. Yoga (YouTube its free and a couple of great instructors are Yoga with Tim - he surfs and Yoga with Kassandra are a couple to start with

Morning and pre surf activation's and stretching, post surf yoga and stretching and long walks daily. Chek Australia and Jan Carton on the Gold Coast were the best for me in my mid forties but very expensive but what price can you put on catching waves?

The trick is to do whatever you can within your time constraints, budget and fitness levels to get yourself to the 50+ age so when you do have time to surf you can go for it

Good luck anyone who is going through this at the moment, as Steve said time will heal all and dont rush it, especially if you are in the 50+ age bracket

DY's picture
DY's picture
DY Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 3:29pm

If you don't this this is sage advice, you're not far enough into your 30s or bloody lucky (or you've kept your ambitions in line with your abilities). You've formalised what I've been mulling over recently (mid/late 30s), but seeing it written down is a strangely powerful reinforcement, a bit like what Steve mentioned. Thanks so much for taking the time to set it out.

Sprout's picture
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Sprout Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 3:58pm

Can't afford it at this point but I've heard great things about Jan. Great advice.

Roystein's picture
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Roystein Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 10:25pm

Great post brownie
Nudging 40, post two weeks in indo underlines your outline here for me.
Know if I don’t up the maintenance I probably won’t make it through the next trip
Sitting is a disease

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 2:59pm

Ooh, you’re a bugger Freeride. I wrote something on the exact same topic but had dragged the chain getting it away. Yours is very good though and I enjoyed reading it. Cheers for writing and thanks also for your progress updates as you healed as they mirrored an injury I was also experiencing. It was reassuring hearing your version of the calf weakness as my Doctor told me I had MS. Not the sort of news you want going through your mind during the early AM hours when you’re already emotionally compromised by bodily dysfunction. I cured that by not going to the Doctor anymore. Now my leg seems to work just fine.

Glad to hear you’re better too.

andy-mac's picture
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andy-mac Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 2:57pm

Good read, thanks. The joys of getting older...

Mcface's picture
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Mcface Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 3:17pm

Good stuff Steve. Recently back from a lung collapse soon followed by a really bad bout of covid. Not as bad or persistent an issue as yours but I can still relate. First surf in waist high waves on my mates mal was supremely cathartic, just loved it.

H2O's picture
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H2O Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 3:35pm

Good for you Steve.

greg-n.williams's picture
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greg-n.williams Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 5:42pm

GR8 read Steve thaks for sharing mate! I'm sure we can all relate to injury,recovery & the time it takes to recover! I've been lucky in my surfing life of over 45yrs to not sustain too many injuries but in saying that the last 10yrs in particular has been a test of both my mental & physical states. Indeed father time makes it so much more difficult to recover as quickly & get back out the back but willpower & the fact that there is always somebody worse off than yourself is a strong motivator to return to the church of the open sky! Enjoy the ride!

dannyz's picture
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dannyz Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 6:08pm

Great article mate.. really hits home for me, I was 6months before I could get wet and almost 12months before I could surf proper waves again.. it's tough, really tough and you really find out what you're made of in that situation!

vbaaccess's picture
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vbaaccess Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 6:37pm

I was out of the water with two chronic foot ulcers on the top of my feet near the toes. Blood supply to this area is the worse place on your body to have ulcers. Ulcers did not heal until I went to specialist wound clinic and saw a amazing nurse who has a masters in wound treatment. Made more progress in those two weeks than with my local medical center over four months of failed treatment. The pain was soo bad at night I could not sleep. Got infected twice during the recovery process. Got the okay to go in the water and spent two weeks just paddling to build up my paddle fitness. Back to catching waves after four weeks. Just take baby steps.

noozu_noozu's picture
noozu_noozu's picture
noozu_noozu Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 7:15pm

Great read Steve, and can absolutely relate.

Made me think of this little ditty

NoUseforaName's picture
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NoUseforaName Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 7:50pm

Exactly the same injury here. Same time of year. Did it swinging a kettle bell. Had a few beers that night and felt ok and also woke at 3 unable to move. I had a month off work. Slower recovery for me. Tried surfing a few times but yeah wow can’t even get to my feet yet. Just started a strict diet and exercise regime. I’ve missed too many good days this year. On day 9 and starting to feel really good. Pop up on land feeling better but still a long ways to go. Turning 50 in October. Fit by Fifty is my mantra. Thanks for this story. I feel better knowing I’m not the only kook who can’t stand up. To quote big Arnie “I’ll be back”

Shnellgor's picture
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Shnellgor Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 7:50pm

I herniated my L5/S1 disc on a late backhand takeoff about 7 years ago. Life changing. Didnt know until the next morning. When I got up to get ready for work as soon as I stood up I felt pain in my left hammy like a combination of a blowtorch, a knife and a camel bite all at once. I thought I had torn my hammy in my sleep (?) until I started to sweat and my eyes started tearing up fully. It was then I realised I was in real trouble. Once I had an MRI the hospital called me straight away. The Docs words were that the blowout was f_cking massive ( his words ) and they wanted to operate the next day as it was 1-2mm away from stopping me from peeing and crapping - a medical emergency. The Doc conceded that the outer sheath of my spinal chord was going to be shaved inevitably along with the actual hernia and that there of course was a slight risk of worse things happening during surgery. I decided right there I was not having that op and went home and quite honestly crawled around the house for 4 weeks. I went with dry needling, eventually gave up any pain meds as they didnt touch the pain, and endless pelvic rotations as they were the only thing that didn't hurt.
I was a cripple for the first 2 years of my son's life and I had some dark times for sure. Lifting big baby boys is not the way to heal, but it is a necessity, and those times were ridiculously hard, the hardest of my life. I worked out eventually that the only way to cope was one day at a time, and that's how I stayed mentally strong. That strategy saved me for sure.
18 months and hundreds of needles later the MRI showed the rupture had dissolved just like the docs and physios said it would. It still took years to be able to run again ( I never thought I would ) and I have tried to surf heaps of times but my left leg is slow so I end up with my front knee on the board. Super frustrating but I've now dropped 8kg, am running and doing push ups like a madman and have decided to channel my inner grommet and start all over yet again. Whats the option ? Give up ? No way !

82shoes's picture
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82shoes Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 8:40am

"Give up ? No way !"
Thats the attitude you have to have, well done
I was having too many relapses with similar (but not as heavy) injuries and basically had to resign to having a year off
Have had the bad days but you have to be strong like yourself

Shnellgor's picture
Shnellgor's picture
Shnellgor Sunday, 7 Aug 2022 at 11:06am

Good on you 82 keep going. Things will get better if you can keep those joints mobilising little by little.

flow's picture
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flow Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 8:02pm

Shit Shnellgor that heavy. I did my L4 L5 18 months ago. Couldn't walk. Had surgery. A lot better now but still not quite full strength. Do you have all your feeling in your leg and foot? Good on you. Keep positive(easier said than done). I think as long as you're improving your head space will be great. It's great that you're running. Pushups are great for the core too. Good luck

Shnellgor's picture
Shnellgor's picture
Shnellgor Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 8:21pm

Thanks Flow, yeah the feeling eventually came back in my foot, once the hernia had dissolved and the nerves weren't squished any more. Good luck to you too. Lets get barrelled !! (:

yodai's picture
yodai's picture
yodai Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 8:05pm

Steve
Back in water for 3 weeks now after 4 months out of water post unexpected open heart surgery,time in ICU makes one realise how delicate the body is
Friend lent me a 6:6 mid length with paddle power
Have been doing short sessions up to about 4 ft
Amazing how quickly surf fitness drops after a few weeks away
As a 68yo still looking to getting back onto my standard 6:3” short board
Missed some big swells of late but really appreciate getting back into water
Lots of daily walks to get lung capacity back plus bike rides
Soon back in bush on my mob once tracks dry out from big wet
My advice even when unable to surf was to see the ocean every day and remember how much all surfers miss it

geek's picture
geek's picture
geek Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 10:17pm

Wasn’t quite as intense as open heart surgery for me but I had my first surf Friday after about 8 weeks, a couple ICU visits with multi night stays in hospital and finally surgery on my guts.

You’re not wrong about realising how delicate the body is when you’re lying in an ICU bed (with a tube up my nose into my stomach in my case!). I don’t think it will take me long to get back to where I was with surfing but my mtb fitness has taken a big hit

Standingleft's picture
Standingleft's picture
Standingleft Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 8:23pm

Liking these songs
Another great article Steve. 'more stages than a tour d France' lol. Pays to keep a sense of humour about it for sure. Missing surfing for medical reasons is horrible because we all know, it's such good medicine. I'm down a ligament in my shoulder thanks to that flowrider hell machine, surgery is an option but doctor said 'regular surfing will help you'. Could've kissed him. It's taken a long time, still gets sore occasionally but got full use again to do gardening jobs etc

kaiser's picture
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kaiser Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 8:38pm

You lost me at step one…

udo's picture
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udo Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 8:56pm

&list=PLeMOmlZnwlAW70Lctfm4HJlEmFv3c16wO

Swany's picture
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Swany Monday, 1 Aug 2022 at 9:35pm

Backs are so tricky. I had decades of misdiagnosis. physio / docs can really struggle, even specialists. Foundation training honestly knocked the socks of all of them, can recommend.

yodai's picture
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yodai Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 5:24am

Yes foundation training is great
Google it on you tube
Swell net forum about 2 yrs ago put me onto it,maybe SW can post a link.was story about older Gold Coast surfers still surfing.dr Eric Goodman has now released a variant on the original 12 minute video plus added a new 49min killer workout for your back,all highly recommended

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 6:14am

Whoa, some amazing stories, thanks everyone.

Recently started getting a weird sensation in one of my knees that feels like it's about to pop off. Gonna find a physio to work out what the problem is before I do any damage... a little nervous about surfing right now in case something happens.

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 7:16am

Describe the sensation.

A locking/ catching ? Grinding? Instability ? Weakness? Slow response?

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 7:34am

Just feels like it's about to give way, when I'm walking.. I suppose a weakness around the joint which immediately makes me recoil - not in pain, but in anticipation that it's about to collapse. Never had this kind of sensation before.

Standingleft's picture
Standingleft's picture
Standingleft Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 8:14am

Did you injure your knee somehow? Sounds a very strange sensation. Ligament? Get it checked mate.
That's a problem too. No one wants to go to the doctor in case they get bad news ie told no surfing, so we put it off and that sometimes makes the recovery longer.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 8:24am

Don't recall any incident that may have contributed to an injury, apart from excessive bass-drum kicking back in Adelaide a few weeks ago.

I do recall that it's been a slow creeper over the last 6 months or so.. getting incrementally worse each week. So, better get it checked out ASAP.

Standingleft's picture
Standingleft's picture
Standingleft Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 8:41am

Excessive bass drum just sounds like good times to me. Did you say you have three primary school aged boys?
That translates to wear and tear on dad.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 8:54am

Two primary school kids (one of each).

I suppose all of my nagging and whining has a flow on effect somewhere, just didn't think it'd be around the knee.

Standingleft's picture
Standingleft's picture
Standingleft Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 9:19am

Ha, sick of the sound of your own nagging voice. I hear you, demanding times but yes unlikely source of a knee issue. Sports physios seem to give pretty good advice

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Wednesday, 3 Aug 2022 at 11:07am

You may have a partial tear in your acl.

flow's picture
flow's picture
flow Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 7:22am

Different things work for different people. I'd get advice before launching into anything too aggressive. I tried foundation training. A few weeks later I couldn't walk from a blown disc. I'm not saying it caused it but just letting you know my experience. Good luck to all.

Walk around G's picture
Walk around G's picture
Walk around G Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 9:12am

L5\S1 spinal fusion was my major op. Took 6 month's before I was back in the water, then 2 year's or so surfing 3-4 times a week to get back to an intermediate level. I surfed for a futher 10 years or so post op ,no problem, as in IMO, the key is to surfing is being in the water, actively surfing a minimum 3-4 days a week, otherwise as you get older everything fades away, your muscles strength, flexibility, reactions, timing and froth levels.

Unfortunately in my case, work and being a dad has got in the way for me, I don't get time to surf 3-4 times a week anymore, so I've given it away. I still love the ocean though, still go down if it pump's on a weekends or after work, just to watch and mind surf a few, plus talk to the boys and feel some of their froth. It's funny, I still look at the synoptic chart's during my morning breakfast ritual and even still subscribe to a surf website. Life changes but I'm ok with that, if for some reason my work situation changes or when the kids are doing their own thing I probably will return to the ocean.

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oxrox Wednesday, 3 Aug 2022 at 11:47am

Hey Walk around. You had the same surgery as me. If you don`t mind me asking, what was the main problem after surgery that took 2 years to surf ok again. Loss of flexibiity?

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Walk around G Wednesday, 3 Aug 2022 at 6:03pm

G'day oxrox, yeah flexibility has changed for me, forever but if you surf a lot you'll get around that. I developed a weird multi-stage get-up technique but if you're super surf-fit, it doesn't really effect you that much because you can rely on all your fast twitch fibres and muscle strength to make do with the new poorer technique. As you know, spinal fusion is pretty serious, you're fundamentally altering your spine and core structure. Don't stress though, if you have heaps of watertime and really want to still be better than you were, it is achievable. I eventually surfed at a higher standard than I did pre-injury but I threw everything at it, multiple days a week, over a long period of time.

My only issue now is age (45) and I've got plenty of work and family commitments that basically mean I can't keep surf-fit. I basically found that if I can't keep surfing at a semi decent level, I just get frustrated. When going for a surf meant that I'd come back home more pent-up and frustrated than before going, I knew that I'd reached the point of giving it away. If/when my commitments change, I hope to come back to it but for now, I'm living off the memories.

Good luck matey, you'll be fine if you really want it, if not, there are other things that you can get into, not that I would have believed that if someone said that to me 5 years ago, lol!

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oxrox Wednesday, 3 Aug 2022 at 7:27pm

Thanks Walk around. Yep flexibility will be an issue but I`m pretty confident with the way I`m improving I will be ok. Hopefully.
I`m older than you but was flexible prior to surgery and fit. Like you, if I can`t surf at a good level I will give up. Still want to surf on rail and hit lips etc if I can`t do that then I`m going to be super frustrated. If I can still get to my feet quickly I feel I will be ok
Hope you get back into it when the kids get older. I haven`t found any other sport anywhere near as good as surfing.

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batfink Thursday, 4 Aug 2022 at 9:24am

“When going for a surf meant that I'd come back home more pent-up and frustrated than before going.”

Hey Walk around. The cure for that is the mental approach. Regardless of how well you look after your body everyone is going to see a decline in their surfing. For me, around 50 or so, I really changed my perspective from ‘wave count’ to just enjoying being out there, taking in the scenes, the sensuous feel of the water, sun on back etc. (while still using guile and smarts to get as many waves as possible)

It’s a beautiful thing, the waves are just a bonus. But I do get ya.

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oxrox Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 9:29am

Some inspiring stories here including Steve`s. For my part, I had a grumbly lower back which would sometimes be fine and other times it would give me some grief but nothing too bad. Looking back there were signs it was getting worse ie numb sensation in my right leg which only happened when surfing after an hour or so. One day I tweaked my back but wasn`t too bad. Still bike road that day and did most things normally with no pain medication.
Next day out of the blue I had severe pain in my hip and my right foot went numb. Got stretchered into emergency and was told I has sciatica. Cut a long story short, after exhausting physios, doctors etc I went to a sports doctor who is involved with one of the afl clubs here. Showed me the compression of my nerve root which was severe and told me there and then I needed surgery urgently otherwise I may never walk properly again. Surgeon confirmed this and I was operated on within a fortnight. Dead against back surgery but didn`t want to risk having severe foot drop for the rest of my life. I had zero movement in my foot which is now recovering. Also couldn`t stand on one leg right side.
I`m definitely being impatient 4 months post surgery with some of the stories above. Inspirational stuff! If it takes a year or more to get back in the water that`s what it takes. I can hit golf balls I found out on the weekend so can do something I enjoy I guess.
My advice would be if you get numbness down your legs and lose the ability to walk properly get an MRI asap.

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Matt_W Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 9:31am

Great article, Steve! I've got to say that hit me. I spent 9 months last year out the water with L4/L5 on the nerve route. The cortisone injections etc didn't help at all either and I really struggled when our newborn arrived. Loved hearing about your approach to measuring the pain out of 100, a great takeaway for me. Got to say, I didn't really have a plan and there was times, especially around the 4-5 month mark where the sciatica felt like it wasn't getting better and it was something I was going to have to learn to live with when in reflection I was slowly improving. Thanks again for sharing!

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san Guine Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 9:36am

Never underestimate the healing power of the mind

"More recently, however, experts have concluded that reacting to a placebo is not proof that a certain treatment doesn't work, but rather that another, non-pharmacological mechanism may be present."

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-ef...

My own experience of returning to surfing after a prolonged injury, is that my confidence is shot, although my ability to surf remains.
Slowly, slowly...bigger boards, softer waves.

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mattlock Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 9:48am

The less I move, the worse my sciatica gets.
Walking is good.

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frog Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 10:14am

I find BJJ good for an aging body. These moves speed up the aging process nicely:

Cervical neck cranks
Flying arm-bar
Flying Triangles
Jumping or flying guard pull
Kani basami or scissor leg takedown
Bicep slicer
Double underhook stack pass
Slams and wrist locks
The twister submission
Triangle chokes

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AndyM Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 10:35am

Who needs a chiro when guys are pulling bow and arrows, and twisters on you?? :)
Getting stacked is fucked though, it really can be a worry for your lower back.

Generally though, I find BJJ good for overall strength, flexibility and fitness.
Just gotta take it easy and tap early if you're feeling compromised.

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Robwilliams Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 10:26am

Many good words in this thread here's to positive healing and prevention for all both physically and mentally Create those healthier habits such as stretching exercise eating and apply them when you can you don't need to be Arnold but it all helps in recovery and better health what ever the level

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radiationrules Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 10:48am

"Pharmacogenomic (PGx)" testing - may add to the solutions for some.

This is a simple blood test; done by Sonic Genetics and others. In essence, a process whereby your specific genetics are matched against available pain management medication recommended for your condition. My results showed I had a "CYP2D6: Intermediate Metabolizer" genetic issue, which lead to being prescribed pain medication that didn't rely on "normal" metabolization rates. This outcome means significantly faster and more effective pain relief, at low dosage, from the replacement medication - instead of ever-increasing dosages of medication that didn't work for me, at a genetic level. I was prescribed the wrong medication for 10 years? WTF?

The issue with pain is that after 3-6 months of constant pain; this can lead to the neural pathways being so conditioned to pain that they create their own pain signals, even when the injury has healed. In turn, creating a "chronic condition" that is more debilitating than the original condition.

Net, net don't be afraid to take opiates, (@ the lowest dose possible) or any other recommended pain medication - that reflects your genetic makeup - and leads to the condition subsiding. If you have a severe injury - focus on getting it resolved in 3-6 months. If you go beyond 3-6 months with chronic pain; this can then become the issue, as well as the injury.

My context is I have CIPN (a neurological condition caused by chemotherapy drugs). I've had it for 12 years now. For the first 5 years, my surfing was so bad I wanted to stop, but like all of you, it's my lifeline to a balanced life. (Imagine you're surfing in two pairs of booties and have to shout "your going left" to yourself, 'coz the brain can't get the signal to your feet.) Over the last 7 years, I've got myself back to about 75% of who I was in the water. And to me, that's a beautiful thing, way better than being dead from cancer, or being a spectator.

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Robwilliams Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 12:31pm

Radiation, your cancer and others serious head and neck injuries are on another level. I feel for you and what you and others have survived. Those two empties at the top of the page are for you. No one out ;) and beautiful conditions.

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radiationrules Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 12:33pm

RW > kind thank you; I'll take an empty wave anytime I can! Knowledge is power; so if someone benefits from my journey all the better for us all. > RR

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fcalmon Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 12:37pm

This will be my life motto from now on:
Father Time wins every war. We all end up in the pine box or the incinerator. Along the way though, how many good years, how hard you fight against the dying of the light, is largely up to you.

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Wacky-willy Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 1:30pm

Thanks for sharing a very relatable tale. I'm finally accepting the trajectory of ageing tendons and muscles of a middle aged body. Will take your quote with me as I get nearer to getting back into the ocean.

"My bodies healing. I'm getting stronger. I can comeback stronger."

Thank you.

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Island Bay Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 2:18pm

Good to see you back in fine form, Steve.

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old-dog Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 6:03pm

Here's my 2c worth. About 10 years ago I suddenly had a weak left leg, hard going upstairs, made popping up a lot trickier and felt like it could give way any minute. It caused me to limp and I thought it was knee related. Had a CT scan and the doctor looked at me gravely and said it was nerves from lower back and called it sever spondylolisthesis i.e. two cotton reels impacted, also causing four bulging discs in lower back. I tried surfing but totally kooked it trying to get up. My dad had an inverter machine that he swore by and was too old to use it anymore so he gave it to me. I hung upside down by my ankles for awhile each day and after a few weeks was back in the water like it never happened. I haven't had any problems since. Cheers.

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Roystein Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 6:11pm

Great article and great conversation following
I am sure that is music for your soul and ongoing recovery Steve

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3vickers Tuesday, 2 Aug 2022 at 8:28pm

got the same thing steve- but have had 2 x micro diseconomy surgeries- the back is ready to throw me grief at a moment’s notice- but after much dedication, the mind is always looking forward and upward- what else can you do….

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Craig Wednesday, 3 Aug 2022 at 12:05pm

Some amazing but also heavy stories in here. Thanks all for sharing along with the tips on attitude, and getting back to the one thing we all have in common. The love and pure joy of being in and harnessing the healing energy of the ocean.

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gsco Wednesday, 3 Aug 2022 at 6:40pm

Great article FR and lots of informative reading in the comments - better reading than most medical websites dedicated to this stuff! Thanks for sharing everyone.!

My story is just the usual situation of my lower back going out occasionally since my early 20s.

The worst time it happened was from standing up on a wave. I very painfully and awkwardly made my way in and back to the car, and drove the hr back home. But when I got home I was “welded” to the seat and literally could not move, let alone get out of the car! Took a few months to recover from that one. Was early 30s at the time.

Haven’t had a problem for a few years now. Seem to have a good exercise and stretching regime in place.

And I cracked two ribs earlier in the year (again surfing, actually a funny story) and the hospital thought I ruptured my spleen, so I got all the x-rays and scans etc done. Turns out my lower back looked super good - all vertebrae well separated and nicely aligned - and the doctors even commented on how good my lower back was for my age of 46. Super happy bout it.

Recovered from the ribs quite quickly and was back in the water before anyone noticed I was even out, although they remained sore to paddle for a while and I still notice them a bit even now.

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Seaweed Thursday, 4 Aug 2022 at 9:51am

Mate that was an inspiring read, I wish I’d have had your attitude to ageing and injury 10 years ago though I stupidly took the Valium and ignore approach to spinal spasms that came close to ending my surfing time with out me even caring. It was only when the weight started stacking up that I took yoga and long distance walking seriously that began to feel myself again. Now things are much better and surfing is as big a part of my life as any man of my age has a right to except.

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batfink Thursday, 4 Aug 2022 at 10:58am

“A few things really helped pre and during rehab. Walking was number one. We are bipedal hominids.”

Amen to that. I’ve always been a walker to some extent. Office life, spending great wads of your time sitting at a desk is so counter to human conditioning it could reasonably be called abuse. After 40 years of it, in spite of being conscious of it and doing what I could to overcome it, walking swimming, surfing, weights, I still had a significant butt problem. Entirely from not sitting in perfect posture for 8 or 9 hours a day, but nobody can sit perfectly for long.

Boring story short, keeping your glutes well and evenly muscled is a key factor in good back, hips, knees.

Now out of the office for two years, except for some short stints. Walking is the base of my attempts to keep upright. Add in surfing when you can, weights if you can, gardening lots (amazing variety of muscle movements in that shit), and the hope of maintaining health for surfing is pretty high.

But then Covid, and floods. In over 30 years my only extended period out of the water was early in the piece, when hairline rib fractures just made laying on a board too painful. Didn’t surf for 3 months.

Up till last year. Locked down in Randwick LGA for 14 weeks or so, and everyone within and without came to the local, most to learn to surf. It was mental crowds, Monday to Sunday. Everyone was “working from home”. I have never witnessed such a circus. Every regular Maroubra surfer I know was going spare. Me, I just surfed very little over that time. Did swimming, untold amounts of walking and some weights but only surfing gets you surfing fit. Then earlier this year, another 12 or so weeks without getting in the water. My choice, but water that stinks, leaves an oily residue on your skin when you get out, has coconuts and logs floating around (and fridges on the central coast) and Bull sharks attacking a local meant I just couldn’t get in the water.

Being out for that long is hard to come back from. Still just having the irregular surf as conditions were a little too much for an unfit 60 year old, but there are plans. Smaller days saw many terribly kooky sessions and a few 3-4’ days showed glimpses of what is still there.

So the fitness improvement is the hill I have to climb. Current surf conditions - not even a wave slapping on the beach.

It’ll turn around. Me, the surf and the opportunity. Planets aren’t aligning at the moment, but I can wait till they do. And prepare.

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batfink Thursday, 4 Aug 2022 at 11:09am

Re walking, apart from doing lots of it, try to do a lot of bush tracks if you can. Uneven surfaces, different step lengths, greater balancing effort and being in amongst nature are especially good for physical and mental health. Do a bit of balance walking too as you get 50+. Find a kerb 5” wide or so to walk along. Stand on one leg to dry your toes after a shower. Wait for your coffee on one leg, doing knee lifts with the other, then change legs. Balance skills are lost as you get older, and all those old people in hospital with broken hips and heads are there mostly because they just lost their balance.

Finally, from your 20’s onwards make it a lifelong habit to be conscious of what is happening to your body. Get to know the little quirks, weaknesses, flexibility or not, work out the little things that are minor short term aches and pains and what are things that need to be actively worked on.

Although I avoid them as far as possible, physios are great. They’ll fix your problem, give you exercise and if you’re wise you’ll pick up every bit of information you can from them. Just don’t go back to them forever unless someone else is paying. 3 visits is usually enough to cure things before they become big problems. Small problems ignored become big problems.

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Westofthelake Thursday, 4 Aug 2022 at 12:12pm

Such a great article FR and thanks to you and everyone for sharing their journeys.

Like others above have mentioned, the importance of walking cannot be underestimated.

A couple of years before Covid I started walking daily. Each morning the very first thing after getting dressed is to have a quick drink of water, then straight out the door. Lucky for me I have a set path to follow which takes me up a moderate hill in about 10 minutes. It's funny how some days I am still half asleep on the way up. At the top in the bush cul-de-sac there is a Telstra pit with concrete lid where I do 30 push-ups, 30 squats, and some variation of stretches derived from learning the "Salute to the Sun" in my 20's. Then I jog back home. Total time 20 minutes a day, and that's it.

This small amount of exercise provides me with the confidence to know that when I hit the waves I can still have a decent crack at it. My favourite saying I came up with recently goes "Something is better than nothing", and I relate this to my daily efforts to at least do some sort of exercise, even if only for 'minutes'.

Anyway here's Carl for a laugh, because that is always good medicine.

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Fudrongo Friday, 5 Aug 2022 at 3:56pm

QiGong and Pilates
CBD and High Strength Tumeric
Optimism and Perseverance

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sunbird Friday, 5 Aug 2022 at 5:14pm

This is such an interesting thread, and what makes swellnet so great. A lot of wisdom and shared experience here. As a physio and acupuncturist it's great to hear all your different perspectives and some great stuff to share with my patients.
Totally agree with the guide to surfing through the decades. Over 40, daily stretching is non negotiable. Doesn't have to be anything fancy, yoga is great, but just putting all your joints through full range - basic stretches like quads, hamstrings, ***hip flexors (super important),
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
It's all in the attitude. My last patient tonight was 78 years old. Knees are cactus, but with a bit of rehab she is back to competition tennis and golf. Oldest guy I"ve surfed with was in his 80s. After hip replacement it took him a while to pop up ( more of a gradual meander to his feet) but still loving his surfing.
You guys will all have heard this, but it's bloody true, " The best surfer out there is the one with the biggest smile"
Good luck everyone in navigating the rehab journey and getting the joy back.

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[email protected] Friday, 5 Aug 2022 at 7:43pm

If you surf, it’s inevitable that you will get hurt. The good news is the body is a remarkable machine that self repairs, given time and depending on the severity of the injury. Mine was twenty years ago at age forty nine and my first board with trainer wheels. Sharp as a knife I thought as I ran my finger down the back of the side fins two weeks before I discovered how sharp they really are. It was winter time, first clean day following a storm. My fourteen year old son had just paddled out in the darkness and I soon followed. Not big, a two metre beach break but a bit of power. I paddled into my first and only wave of that day. As I took the drop I realised I was unable to turn on my backhand as another surfer was just paddling out into the impact zone and into my path. I tried to bail out backwards and leap over the lip. My board had rolled over, exposing the three fins vertically pointing to the sky. The lip dragged me down backwards catching the outside fin on my left leg just below my arse. Whether the board had hit the bottom or it was just the power of the fall, but the fin penetrated my wetty, cut though two hamstrings and completely severed my sciatic nerve. It felt like someone was undoing a zip at the back of my leg up to my arse. I rolled and turned with the wave until it’s power was gone. Reaching for my leg my fist went into a hole in my leg. The fin had cut though to the bone and subsequently got ripped from the board, leaving behind only the grub screw and a bit of the plastic fin. There was blood everywhere, my leg was instantly paralysed and I was still eighty metres or so from shore. I managed to scramble to my board with one arm while trying to close the tear in my leg with the other. Somehow I managed to get to shore and crawl up past the shoreline, my leg now bleeding profusely and a dead weight with no feeling. I could go on as there is a lot more detail about this story, some very painful to recall. Seven years out of the water and a lot of rehab and I got back in the water. It’s not as pretty as it used to be, some say it never was, but hey that’s mates for you. Anyway getting close to seventy now and still enjoying a few sessions a week. Have to wear a rip curl booty on my left foot as I have no feeling and my toes don’t work. I have three spare brand new right foot booties if anyone needs one. Cheers Boys.

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pgs Saturday, 6 Aug 2022 at 11:05pm

Hey thermalben, your knee sounds exactly the way my back problem started. I would be walking in a straight line and my left knee would just give way, sometimes I would hit the deck and other times I would stumble forward. I eventually went and saw a hip and knee surgeon when I had left and right hip pain constantly. Surfing was totally out of the picture by this stage. Months of physio, cortisone injections both hips and also draining of bursae with not much relief and hip surgeon sent me for an MRI of my back, result being fusion of L5 - L4 - L3. No longer able to do pop up as have drop foot in left foot and foot numbness foot and the big toe basically flops around. No longer can surf boards so went the SUP route. Now have been told that L3 - L2 needs some attention. Original surgeon wanted to operate immediately and fuse L3 - L2. I got my GP to refer me to another surgeon for a second opinion who said keep up exercises and when they aren't giving relief he will do keyhole surgery with 1 month recovery. I'm still SUP surfing have good days and bad days in the water but have avoided the keyhole surgery by keeping active walking, surfing and doing back exercises. BTW I'm 68 years old.