The end came for me in the shore-break at Ehukai Beach Park in 1979. I was tucked into this hollow little barrel, riding my 7’6” Parrish. I was hooting and hollering. The waves were breaking all the way up to the beach on this incredible wide and shallow sandbar.
Ordinarily, when I finished the wave I'd pick up my board, run back out into the deep water and paddle into the lineup. I remember PT (Peter Townend) responded to one my hoots in his best Aussie borough, “It’s like the every day in Sydney!” His comment didn’t phase me. Small perfect waves on the North Shore in the middle of winter were a treat and I was stoked.
On this wave, I felt the board lift up as it hit the backwash and them slam down on the beach. My back went POP! I kept surfing but as I walked up the beach my back went into a Z. A severe spasm; by the time I drove up the hill to our house I was in major pain. The whole way home I kept thinking how could I get hurt surfing in two-foot waves?
In truth, my injury was not that serious. Two weeks later, after the best treatment available, I was able to surf in really mellow waves. The problem was that the spasms started to come back on a regular basis. I found it really hard to take off on steep waves. My confidence was shot. I needed the present day me to be in charge of my recovery.
The real issue with my injury was that I just didn’t have the tools to handle being hurt. I didn’t begin to know how I could experience a complete healing: I couldn’t process the emotions, reframe the situation, buy into a solution and put all of my energy getting the job done. The injury had been done to me and I was completely at the effect of the pain and discomfort. I was the victim.
To feel better, I started to train again. I began to run hills and get back into the weight room. I began to gain the weight back. From a low of 168 I quickly went back to 190. My seven-year quest was over. Instead of surfing Sunset, I would run up the hills behind it and look down on the surf or drive by it and feel very little. The feelings would get processed later.
Fortunately my life was about to change. As a family, we went to Georgia on an 8-month sabbatical. When we came home, we moved to town. Dawn patrol to surf became getting up at 5 a.m. to learn how to write. My ocean activity turned to windsurfing Back Yards on the North Shore and Diamond Head in town.
Only recently have I taken the time to process and complete the emotions that I have from that time back in the 70s. Quite simply it was the most beautiful experience and pure fun I’ve ever had. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to live out a dream and now feel so good about the outcome.
The lessons were huge. On the mainland for my sabbatical, I learned how to rehab my back with stretching, exercise and a ton of breathing to gain the awareness needed to heal. My injury turned out to be an injury I suffered in the ninth grade. During some very deep-body work, a very skilled physical therapist released the pain and with it came the memory of being slammed on my back in a Greco Roman wrestling tournament. All that time in between wrestling and surfing I had been maintaining the injury.
The program for taking care of my back became a book and program that I wrote with Robby Naish. Our audience was athletes who wanted to prepare themselves to be radical during the day and process the tension and strain before they went to bed. This project led to several writing projects and the awareness needed to create a complete healing after surgery. I’ve had a few surgeries over the years and this helped me to create a complete healing for myself and then share this process with others.
In short, my seven years of surfing Sunset Beach taught me how to buy into a plan to accomplish a worthwhile goal. To build and manage the energy needed to get the job done and be deliberate working through to completion. And finally, to accept the results.
That really is HiLevel!