Hard times offer us the opportunity to get to know ourselves better and grow from adversity. This was one of the worst moments for me in 2020: The Broken Head Beach Shark Story.
June 2nd, 2020, Byron Bay, Australia.
After almost 3 months I already had a return date to fly back to Spain. I only had a week left to make the most of the unexpected “Australian light lockdown” that destiny awarded me with, and my passion for surfing. The forecast that day showed 30 knots southwest wind. Way too much for surfing. But it was my countdown period. So I thought that Broken Head beach, right under the headland, would be more sheltered. So I decided to give it a try there, without thinking twice. From the curve I could already see that it was not that bad after all, so I parked my van in a deserted parking lot, put on my wet suit and started walking down the shore.
Holding my board and with the water by my knees, as I untangled the leg rope from my ankle, I looked up and saw a one-meter shark surfing effortless the shore wave 5 meters right in front of me. I was impressed by its predatory gaze forged by thousands of generations of sea hunters. I hesitated. Probably given its size it would be harmless to surfers. Despite being lone hunters, I feared that if there was one, there might be others, and maybe bigger ones. I was not sure of what to do. I didn’t know if I should stay. I thought I was not going to be comfortable in the water, so after a few minutes I turned around and walked back to my van quite disappointed. I got in still wearing the wetsuit. As I drove home to Suffolk Park, I decided to take a quick look at The Cozy Corner, north end of Tallow Beach. Surely that day would not be so “cozy” with the strong south wind, much worse than Broken Head Beach, but hopefully no sharks! And already with the suit on and ready to get wet, I wasn’t losing anything by peeking out. Upon arrival I confirmed my worst suspicions. Although the wind was coming from the land, it was way too strong. But … since I was already there … I thought … Let’s go for a quick session, catch a couple of waves so I can go back home in peace.
I paddled out towards the breakwater, blind, I couldn’t see a thing. The wind was such that it kept throwing water towards my face without letting me see. I tried to catch a couple of waves and it was almost impossible. Going down the wave with that headwind was a nightmare. After being in middle of that annoying sprinkler for more than 15 minutes, I decided it was time to call it a day. I was standing up in the water. My board was floating a meter in front of me. In that instant, a crazy gust of wind blew out my surfboard throwing it violently against my face without giving me time to dodge it or protect myself.
The impact on my right temple was terrible. I was in shock. I noticed how I was gradually losing consciousness and I was about to faint. I was about to get carried away by that sweet sensation when I had a moment of lucidity, enough to realize that I was completely alone, with the water up to my waist and about to pass out.
I flopped down on the board. Blindly I felt my forehead, looked at my hand, and it was covered in blood. There was an intense and peculiar smell of rust. I did my best to get back to the parking lot while leaving a trail of blood. I laid down on the sand for a few seconds but felt I was losing my head again. It was like an uncontrollable sleep attack. Making a last effort, I got up and staggered to the van, where I picked up my phone and took this selfie to check the extent of the wound as a mirror.
As you can see in the photo, I was white as paper and with that lost gaze. I decided to drive to Byron Bay Hospital, without thinking, almost instinctively. It was only 15 minutes away but felt like hours. I nearly blacked out on two occasions. With some wipes I had in the van I was covering the wound and driving with one hand. Even so, I had an eye full of blood that prevented me from seeing properly. I even skipped the hospital exit and had to turn around. I finally got there, walked into the emergency room, and saw the reception desk at the end of the hallway. It must have been the feeling of comfort of having reached the right place. I only remember that suddenly everything was red, my legs gave out and … faded into black …
I woke up on a gurney while two nurses were putting blankets over me and my wetsuit and asking me questions. Half a bottle of organic glue, and 150 Australian dollars later, still quite groggy, I drove back home to Suffolk Park thinking along the way that I got a scar (indirectly) because of a shark … and that if I had stayed at Broken Head Beach sharing those waves with the shark, I would not have ended with a broken head myself.
Spending my last week in Byron Bay, unable to surf and as we say in Spain, watching the bulls from the sidelines, was far from what I had in mind for that week, and a lot harder than I thought. But I learned a very important lesson: Life sends us signals and we must learn to interpret them.