Nick Ormerod: Putting The Pieces Back Together

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Talking Heads

Most bodyboarders would be familiar with the name Nick Ormerod, while surfers who visit our shallower ledges might also be aware of him. A few years back Nick had a violent dispatch at an isolated desert wave, the results of which kept reverberating outwards: hours to get help, days to receive the correct diagnosis, years of pain.

Even those who know Nick are largely unaware of what he went through following his accident, yet now he and filmmaker Brad Schmidt are piecing it all together for an upcoming film. It's called 'Fragor', which is Latin for a loud violent crash, some translations saying it also means a sweet scent, and in the dual meanings it's the perfect title for a story of anguish and growth.

Nick, seconds before everything changed (Alderson)

Swellnet: Knowing only a little of the incident, let's get to the bottom of it first. You were chasing waves on South Australia's desert coast and you came unstuck in a serious way?

And despite being in serious strife you had no idea about the severity of your injury until you got an X-ray, is that correct?
Yeah but there's a whole story there. It took three hours for the ambulance to get to me. Then it took another two hours to get to the first hospital, which was basically a tin shed at Ceduna. Basically a garage for a hospital kind of thing.

Then they had to call in a specialist to do the scans on my chest and everything. By the time all that happened, they realised, "Oh, shit, this is an emergency. There's a lot of blood being lost and his lungs are filling up with blood."

By the time I was flown to Adelaide Hospital, it was about eleven hours.

So eleven hours later you still weren't aware your back was broken?
Not quite. I had a feeling that there was spinal injury, but the doctors weren't having any of it. I was trying to tell them that I'd been slammed on my back, yet they ran with a story that I'd fallen over on some rocks. I was trying to tell them, "No, that that's not what happened", and they basically said, "It doesn't really matter what happened." I said, "No, it does matter."

Then they just knocked me out and that was it. I woke up the next day with a drain in my lung and I didn't know what happened. I was like, "Well, what's going on?" Then someone came and talked to me and said, "Good news, there's no spinal injury."

Yeah, good news right? So they were getting me to move around as much as I could, for five days. The key thing was, they were saying, "We know it hurts, but you've got to move as much as you can to get all this blood out, and you've got to get your body moving."

Yet I was really, really struggling. I was in absolute agony to be honest.

Yeah, then five days later they found out that my spine was completely fractured.

Five days!
Oh, yeah. Five days of getting me to walk around, and they were getting me to squeeze my chest, basically try to cough up blood, so they gave me a big pillow to hug, and on the count of three, pull it in, and try to breathe it all out. Pretty big movements..

And painful.
Brutal. I was just like, "I can't believe how painful this is."Then they found the break. The guy doing the X-rays actually thought the X-ray machine was broken, that's how severe the break was. He was like, "I can't understand how you're still standing here."

It's a traumatic story, no doubt about it. Yet that happened seven years ago. Why make the film now? Why revisit that trauma?
If it was just an event that happened, just a war story, then it'd only be entertainment. I wouldn't bother telling it, let's put it that way. Why I think it's worth telling is that there was a whole journey of ups and downs, to the point where it got so down that some pretty meaningful stuff arose. In a sense it's not just about me, nor is it just about surfing, there are a whole lot of other issues.

No doubt you had many quiet moments on the road to recovery, perhaps thinking about what your life may have been like. You entertaining those thoughts, is that part of the reason of revisiting it again?
Not really, to be honest. I hate to admit this, but the relief of knowing how lucky I was only lasted so long. Then the grief of what I did lose, which was living in a pain-free body, overtook that after a while. I don't know if it's shameful to admit, but there was quite a period there, where I was like, "I don't care if I'm paralysed or not, I just don't want to live in pain anymore. I don't care that I got away with it, I'm just in so much pain."

I lost the ability to see how lucky I was.

What was causing the pain?
I had metalwork, a fuck load of metalwork, put in my back. When they discovered it was broken they did a massive surgery and I had metalwork in there, and then I was dealing with that for four years. It got to a point where I was essentially suicidal, in so much discomfort, and the only thing that would give me relief was just laying down, and that was not what I envisioned my life to be.

This is a tricky one for me, because that I know people that have been put into a wheelchair for their life, and I know they can't do with their life maybe what they envisioned. I don't want to sound like, "Oh, well, that's a death sentence. That's the worst thing ever."

Everyone's different, and we all put meaning on different things. For me, I lost the ability to surf and be, I guess, somewhat athletic, and to engage in nature the way that I wanted to do. I was just in pain. That basically took over me, to the point where I was told by surgeons that I couldn't get the metalwork out.

Then I just kept going until I found someone who could do it [take the metal out]. Got it out three years ago. Ever since then I've slowly been improving.

Now that  the accident is a long way behind you, how much of that decision do you own? Do you consider it bad luck, or was it because your ego got the better of you and you were starting to get reckless?
Yeah, we deal with this in the film. In short, I do own it, and it was me getting wrapped in my ego, being known as the guy who rides heavy waves. Wanting to get the shot, and wanting to fill certain gaps in my self-worth, to say, "Okay, I'm really good at this thing."

Whether it was for other people or not, I needed to do it. I just felt like I needed to ride heavy waves. If I didn't do that something felt wrong.

Through the process of healing, and trying to get through the pain, I realised that was just a story I'd tell myself to fill other holes in my self-worth.

So yeah, I did it. 100% it's on me, but the thing is, you make mistakes, you fuck up...and this can even extend to addictions and stuff. These things are all your responsibility and your choice, but you can only heal if you have the compassion to look at it and zoom out for a second, to then ask why you've attached meaning to these things? Why am I making these decisions? Why am I acting this way?

Is it because there's stuff missing in my psyche or my self-worth?

Only then can you begin to heal those holes, do you know what I mean?

Yeah. One positive that may come from big accidents is that it shocks the system, and often it gives you time to reflect on what you've done.
Totally, yeah. What I've learned is being in pain doesn't benefit anyone, it doesn't create growth, it doesn't do anything. It just fucking hurts.

The work you do to get out of it, that's where the magic happens. Then it creates stuff that you can hopefully use to be more useful for yourself or other people.

How do you feel these days when you see video footage of guys going crazy, on below sea level ones out there? Do you wince when you look at that footage or?

Yeah, yeah, I do wince a little bit. Admittedly, there was a bit of a period there where, when I was in a lot of pain and regret and all that, I would look at guys taking off on heavy ones there and just be like, "Fuck, I'm jealous that they got away with it." I was just like, "Fuck me, I basically surfed it once and fell off on one wave, and I had 100% strike rate of breaking my back."

Now the dust has settled a little bit, how do I look at it? I think, I just hope they're doing it for the right reasons, that's all.

I think it's amazing to push your limits, but you've got to be doing it for the right reasons.

You're crowdfunding to raise the last of the funds. Thoughts on that?
To be honest, we were pretty apprehensive about the idea of doing a crowdfunding thing, but I feel like we've got a worthy story. And storytelling is how we make a connection between people; you know we're all trying to figure out life together

So yeah, we're asking but it's not mandatory, just an offer.

Click here to contribute to 'Fragor'


nickormerod's picture
nickormerod's picture
nickormerod Friday, 24 May 2024 at 2:54pm

Cheers Stu. We appreciate it!

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Friday, 24 May 2024 at 3:42pm

Sounds like an epic journey and I look forwards to watching the film.

Andrew P's picture
Andrew P's picture
Andrew P Friday, 24 May 2024 at 3:51pm

Respect. These are the stories that need to be told

dannyz's picture
dannyz's picture
dannyz Friday, 24 May 2024 at 3:55pm

nice! should be an epic film

harrycoopr's picture
harrycoopr's picture
harrycoopr Friday, 24 May 2024 at 6:23pm

He looks pretty stoked seconds before...

conrico's picture
conrico's picture
conrico Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 9:26am

Looks interesting! Keen to know your dates when they’re available

Lottolonglong's picture
Lottolonglong's picture
Lottolonglong Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 10:44am

Feel for ya nick
U called me into one at a sth coast ledge
I thought I was too deep but u yelled go go go
I made it after a battle with the shocky and was stoked to get a sick one
We bolted north to pipe that arvo n u were out getting a few amongst the pack
5 years later I broke my back at same sth coast ledge.5 months out of water
Years of recovery but my main issue now is I can't rush waves I used to especially at wave I injured myself
I count myself lucky I can still surf
Just got back from krui ,wanted nothing to do with waves over 4ft cuz of how gnarly some of them reefs are

57's picture
57's picture
57 Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 11:39am

i feel your pain literally, tore off all my ham strings on both legs on separate occasions. Broke nerves tore knees ligaments and watch my foot go from a size 11 to size 15 in less then 10 seconds.. Didnt even talk about what happen to my shoulder yet. Anyway power to your brother for pushing thru.. That thing about calling it quits cause of pain is just brutal, Totally Understand that one, just take the pain away please . Make sure you get grounded in something or someone... its been 10 years for one injury and 3 for the other which end it for me.. Mental issues just as bad as the pain... be watchful.

Standupgoleft's picture
Standupgoleft's picture
Standupgoleft Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 1:18pm

Your doing the right thing mate reaching out its the best thing for survival Good luck hope life gets better for you!

blow-in-9999's picture
blow-in-9999's picture
blow-in-9999 Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 2:51pm

After hitting my back pretty hard at Javanese slab and waking up pretty rough recently, this hits hard.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 3:16pm

Hard out stories. Didn't Brad Stone wreck his spine this year too? All the best Nick.

Lottolonglong's picture
Lottolonglong's picture
Lottolonglong Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 6:00pm

I heard he did sprout
Doug Robson,Joel Taylor,Chad Jackson, Damien Martin (I think)
Plus more underground boogers all over world
Depends on what degree u break your spine will decide on recovery
Has jughead made a full recovery from his break?

Clivus Multrum's picture
Clivus Multrum's picture
Clivus Multrum Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 4:25pm

All the best, Nick. Sounds like a very difficult ordeal

lettuceleif's picture
lettuceleif's picture
lettuceleif Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 6:35pm

Fkn epic stuff mate. Cant wait to see the film. Love the hair too!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 31 May 2024 at 5:56pm

Nick and Brad reached the Kickstarter goal. The film is gonna get made.