The accident happened on a typical late summer morning at a mainland Mexico beach infamous for its dangerously powerful waves. I was staying in a nearby town with my Christian missionary friend and knee boarder, Jimmy “Jaime” Downs, and taking the first bus to the beach every day where surfboards and helmet awaited my arrival.
On this particular morning I passed the remains of the 6′ 10″ surfboard, which a wave had splintered a few days earlier, as I retrieved my 7’6″ from the board room at Edgar’s hotel on the beach.
The sandbars on which the waves broke were in fairly poor shape. Earlier in the summer they had been battered by waves from several south Pacific swells, and the beach had lost dozens of yards of sand along with over 30 beachfront restaurants.
The surf didn’t look too special. But remembering how much worse it looked the day before when I got the best tube ride of the whole trip on my first wave, I was eager to get in the water. While every one else waited to see how the wind and wave conditions progressed, I headed for the surf as a sleepy-eyed Floridian wished me luck with a semi-enthusiastic nod of the head.
In time a number of surfers joined me and negotiated the ever-changing rip currents and inconsistent sets to get a few good waves. It was a nominal day, but there was definitely potential to get some spitting tubes€”the ultimate surfing experience.
At about 9:00 A.M. on August 17, 1998, a fateful 10-foot wave came in and I angled left on it. For me this meant my back was to the wave, forcing me to twist my body toward its face with my left hand feeling the wave’s face and the right holding the rail to steer my course. It was a fairly textbook style “backside- rail-grab- pull into the tube take-off,” and satisfied with the way things were going, my thoughts went from “This is a nice tube,” to “This is a really nice tube,” to “This is the best tube I’ve gotten all morning.” As I watched the last section of the tube throw over my head and anticipated my immediate escape from the chamber, the wave suddenly closed down on me. The lip crushed me onto my board snapping my left femur into six pieces instantaneously.
As I endured the rag-doll-in-a-washing-machine type workout in the white water, I could feel my left leg battering the rest of my body. I particularly noticed when the heel was hitting my right shoulder blade, but I couldn’t feel my left leg. The turbulence eventually ended and after floating to the surface and gathering my faculties I put my hands on the top of my left thigh and slid them all the way down to my toes. Although I had no feeling in my leg, everything was still there.
Having been swept toward the beach, I ended up in a deep spot where the whitewaters backed off between the breakers and the shore. As I drifted north with the current, my body was in the water and my arms stretched over the mid-section of the board. I intermittently waved one arm in the air and scanned the beach and restaurants for someone to help me, but couldn’t see anyone. The waves finally washed me to the beach. The normally harmless one-foot shorepound twisted and tossed my injured leg unnaturally in every direction as I helplessly rolled up and down the beach. Previously numb, the pain in my leg was now excruciating and 1 cried out for help in both English and Spanish.
Within a minute, a big Mexican man from one of the restaurants came to my rescue. After unstrapping the leash from my ankle, he put my arms around his neck and I locked my hands together before he hoisted me up on his back and carried me to a restaurant chair toward the top of the beach. A small crowd gathered and as we waited for the ambulance I joyfully pointed out to someone that I was able to wiggle my toes.
When the ambulance arrived, a board was strapped to my leg and I was whisked away to the nearest hospital. When the paved road turned to cobblestone for the last block to the hospital, the dull horror of having a broken leg in a third world country really hit me.
In the emergency room (the entrance hall) I was questioned about the injury. I was delirious but could communicate some in Spanish. My semi-bilingual Mexican friend, Chelis, who came with me in the ambulance, helped me with the rest. They checked my vital signs and took some blood while, just out of my reach, the flies dined on some day-old wounds on my ankle.