May 19, 2021

The Dangers of Surfing Big Waves and Brain Injuries

At a far flung surf spot in northern California, Shawn Greenback used to be in hassle. It used to be 2015 and Greenback used to be browsing by myself. When a big set steamrolled his approach, he stood on his board for a couple of ft of additional leverage, and dove underneath the whitewash. However, as he broke the outside, he went head-first right into a shallow rock.

His neck used to be damaged; his mind, scrambled.

“The actual drawback used to be, which I came upon later, that all of the concussions I had ahead of added up, and this one used to be the straw that broke the camel’s again,” stated Greenback, a two-time global document holder for largest wave ever surfed (one at Maverick’s, every other at Cortes Financial institution). “After I went as much as the Amen Health center, the effects from the scans appeared like I had performed highschool, school, and professional soccer. I had the mind of a professional soccer participant, even supposing I by no means performed. I simply surfed. They had been surprised. They scan 1000’s of NFL avid gamers, they usually had been very shocked to peer that during a surfer.”

What adopted for Greenback used to be a protracted street to restoration. And thru his revel in, along side the ones of a lot of different surfers, the query arose: How commonplace are mind accidents in browsing? Seems, they’re extra common than one would possibly be expecting.

Shawn Greenback’s 2010 global document paddle wave at Maverick’s. Picture: Fred Pompermayer

“Any huge swell at Maverick’s,” stated Audrey Lambidakis, a big-wave photographer and founding father of Healing Brainwaves, “you’re going to peer any place from two to ten mind accidents. It’s now not essentially the massive loopy ones when the fellow or woman is tremendous out of it; it may be the ones minor ones, too. You’ll have just a little headache, or you could really feel just a little cloudy. The ones may also be the extra unhealthy ones. The ones are those that reason CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], which is what soccer avid gamers handle.”

RELATED: Why Has Nobody Died in Big Waves Lately?

Lambidakis, a disturbing mind harm (TBI) survivor herself, began Therapeutic Brainwaves as a device for other people (and particularly surfers) to get the ideas they want. It’s a platform for discussing reports, remedies, and, in the end, serving to the ones affected heal. The group works in tandem with every other non-profit, OneHitAway, which, along with training, focusses on elevating cash for remedy. Once more, OneHitAway makes a speciality of sufferers affected by sports-related mind accidents, starting from bull-riders to surfers.

Maya Gabeira, over the handlebars at Teahupoo. Picture: Fred Pompermayer

“When a mind is injured, when you’re taking a success on a surfboard or in a boxing ring or on a soccer box, those are disturbing occasions,” defined Jill Cde Baca, who co-founded OneHitAway together with her husband after their son had a TBI taking part in soccer. “They’ll take hit after hit, particularly surfers. It occurs each and every time you fall. Your mind is the consistency of butter, and the cranium is sharp and difficult. So, the mind shakes in there. Through the years, spaces of the mind overwork or underwork. As an example, the frontal lobe or the brow, that’s your government serve as. That helps to keep you at your process each day, that helps to keep you making the proper alternatives, that helps to keep you with the ability to reason why as it should be. And while you shake the mind ahead and backwards, a large number of the time the frontal lobe is impaired.”

For Albee Layer, Maui big-wave surfer and aerial wizard, he skilled that impairment of judgement firsthand after a wipeout all over the 2019 Peahi Problem. After the autumn, a obviously concussed Layer did the only factor he shouldn’t have: paddle again out.

“I used to be so out of my thoughts,” stated Layer. “I had damaged my vest, and I were given dollar bare within the channel to change vests with certainly one of my buddies. I might’ve by no means f*cking executed that if I used to be in my proper thoughts. Simply stripped down in the course of the Jaws tournament. I paddled again out and I simply began puking and my imaginative and prescient used to be all out of whack. Fortuitously, just a little voice within my head advised me I used to be concussed. If I had stuck every other wave that day, I might’ve had a beautiful excellent likelihood of ruining my standard existence. If I might’ve fallen once more, there used to be a great opportunity I might’ve died.”

So, what precisely does it appear to be when any individual sustains a mind harm?

“Relying on the place the mind is impaired, it results other people in several techniques,” stated Cde Baca. “Some other people might be risky, some other people might be emotional, some other people will stroll like they’re inebriated, some individuals who was A scholars, might be C scholars.”

Grant “Twiggy” Baker going headfirst after a fall at Mav’s in January, 2021. Picture: Audrey Lambidakis

“It’s more or less like while you’re just a little child and also you’re round people who find themselves inebriated,” added Layer. “You don’t understand why they had been appearing bizarre. However then, if you get inebriated your self, you understand why they had been appearing that approach. It’s the similar approach with concussions. As soon as you already know, you’ll completely acknowledge it.”

And those results can expand and irritate over the years, particularly if the harm is going untreated. Moreover, the extra hits to the top one takes, the extra fragile and most likely the mind is to be broken one day.

READ MORE: How Safety Transformed Big-Wave Surfing

“We had this one surfer from Ocean Seaside, who saved getting concussed,” stated Lambidakis. “And in the end, he used to be getting concussed in truly small waves. He didn’t know why. Nevertheless it is smart. The extra mind accidents that you simply maintain, the simpler it’s to get concussed.”

“The extra I used to be getting my bell rung, the longer the restoration used to be,” added Greenback. That’s the pliability of the mind. The extra you drop one thing, the extra fragile it’s gonna be. I’ll fall browsing Excitement Level now, and I’ll have my bell rung, and I simply know that I’ve added every other gentle concussion to my price ticket.”

Jamie Mitchell pre-rescue in Mexico. Picture: Billy Watts

And in some cases, a cumulation of concussions have led surfers to desert huge waves for excellent. That used to be the case for San Diego local and previous Greatest Paddle Award winner, Derek Dunfee, who suffered a couple of mind accidents all the way through his occupation in heavy water which he talks about at period in his new e book, Waking Up in the Sea.

“My concussions have impacted my on a regular basis existence,” stated Dunfee. “I needed to prevent browsing huge waves on account of my concussions. And that’s what I really like – browsing huge waves – particularly at puts like Maverick’s. It used to be a truly tough resolution, nevertheless it used to be affecting my feelings, my anxiousness, my isolation from the sector. It’s severe stuff and it can result in such things as suicidal ideas. I shifted my focal point to capturing pictures and that’s once I learned: the extra I file, the longer I reside.”

However the excellent news is that there’s a number of remedy to be had for mind accidents. And person who’s been gaining steam and recognition is the hyperbaric chamber – necessarily a cocoon pumped filled with pressurized air, permitting the frame to soak up larger oxygen ranges and sending that to spaces that want therapeutic, i.e., the mind. (Observe: even if it’s now not FDA-approved as remedy for TBIs, research have proven that hyperbaric chambers can lend a hand.)

“I had the mind of a professional soccer participant, even supposing I by no means performed. I simply surfed.” — Shawn Greenback

“I believe that it’s one of the vital gamechangers for mind accidents, as it heals injured mind tissue,” Cde Baca defined. “While you infuse pressurized oxygen, the cells and your mind begin to paintings higher. You probably have a mind harm, you lack blood float. This will increase oxygen and blood float to the affected spaces.”

In fact, there’s additionally the query about helmets. Just lately, legions of groms had been dressed in them whilst browsing puts like Pipe, puts breaking over a shallow reef. However they’re now not as commonplace is large waves at puts like Mav’s, Nazaré, or Jaws. Why?

“Had I been dressed in a helmet, once I went head-first right into a rock, it will’ve helped,” stated Greenback. “After my twist of fate, I wore a helmet for years and it used to be truly tough to surf with. It doesn’t really feel herbal, it’s obstructive. For my part, no one has made a truly excellent browsing helmet but.”

Cde Baca persisted: “Helmets are excellent for combating cranium fractures. However the mind can nonetheless shake round.”

An unidentified helmet-wearer at Pipe. Picture: Jeremiah Klein

So, in the case of huge waves, the worry isn’t such a lot smacking one’s head right into a reef or a rock; however moderately, it’s the pressure of the autumn, mixed with the velocity of the surfer and the facility of the wave, which may end up in undesirable inside mind accidents.

Greenback elaborated with a comparability: “In the event you have a look at the army, those guys and ladies are dressed in ballistic helmets. The ones are to forestall a bullet going via their head. However say their humvee runs over a bomb. The helmet isn’t combating a concussion that comes from the rip in the course of the air from the blast. We’ve all felt the have an effect on of a wave – it’s like a blast. So, that helmet isn’t going to forestall your mind from jostling. Don’t get me incorrect, helmets are excellent and there’s a necessity for them; however in the case of concussions, they’re now not going that will help you while you get tossed from the lip at Mav’s.”

Some other fear with the present helmets in huge waves is the tension they are able to impose at the surfer’s neck. They may be able to catch at the water, thus inflicting much more whiplash — and doubtlessly worse.

RELATED: Five Takeaways from the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group Summit

“How do you offer protection to your head with out compromising your neck?” mused Layer. “There’s a technique to do it, I’m positive. However the present helmets would compromise your neck ahead of they’d offer protection to your head. And that is simply in huge waves. In small waves they’re advantageous. If I used to be dressed in the helmet I put on in small waves all over my Jaws wipeout, I might’ve damaged my neck one hundred pc.”

In actual fact, it’s early days within the dialog about mind accidents and large waves. And even if issues are converting on the subject of speaking publicly about concussions and TBIs – with athletes like Greenback, Layer, and others vocalizing their reports and rehabilitation – the topic continues to be reasonably taboo thank you, partly, to attainable occupation ramifications.

“We’re seeing loads of surfers coming in and in search of lend a hand,” stated Cde Baca. “For them, particularly the big-wave women and men, it’s similar to rodeo cowboys in that, in the event that they don’t carry out, they don’t get a dime. There is not any harm reserve. They both carry out or they don’t. It’s hush-hush to discuss it, since the worry of what it’ll do to their occupation.”

Chase LaRue off the lip, Pete Mel under; Mav’s. Picture: Audrey Lambidakis

“I used to be beautiful embarrassed about my head accidents for a very long time,” stated Dunfee. “I’d be out within the lineup capturing pictures, and other people would ask, ‘why aren’t you browsing?’ I’d be embarrassed to inform them. There have been fears about sponsorships, about shedding my process. However at this level in my existence, after going via all this, I do know that it’s higher to discuss. There’s lend a hand in the market. As a result of that, I nonetheless surf each day, and I reside a contented existence.”

Oftentimes, the verboten nature of mind accidents leads surfers to paddle again out when they’ve been rattled and doubtlessly concussed – as a result of, in particular in huge waves, in the event that they don’t surf, they don’t receives a commission. And that may end up in additional injury or even dying. However what OneHitAway and Therapeutic Brainwaves are seeking to do is unfold knowledge, normalize speaking about TBIs and concussions, and inspire remedy.

READ MORE: What It’s Like Falling at Giant Maverick’s, with Ian Walsh

“Base line: they’ll last more in the event that they do [seek treatment],” stated Lambidakis. “How superb would it not be to have a health care provider onsite at those huge occasions with a hyperbaric chamber? Numerous those athletes are scared to confess they have got a concussion as a result of they’re frightened about repercussions from their sponsors. Why now not be open about it and get them the lend a hand they want?”