Australia is the lucky country, no doubt. Being born there seems to come with a certain attitude. When Americans, Europeans or Latin Americans talk about their surfing life they usually make it sound as if they are really good surfers charging serious waves. When Australians talk about their surfing life it sounds as if they always play around in mellow two to three foot waves. Just like Hawaiians but without the hard masculine look that tells you it was really big and really serious even though they do not say so.
It is not that Aussies surf small waves. Not at all. They just do not make a big deal out of the big ones. In Western Australia this behavior reaches another level. People surf the most remote places, get seriously injured and devoured by sharks. But it is no big deal. Relax, mate!
Gnaraloo is one of the meanest waves along a huge coastline full of wicked surprises. It is far away from anywhere. Surfers say it is the only wave they ever saw Andy Irons pull back on. Still, every big swell not only the pros go on a mission to surf there. And every swell people get hurt. Or die. In the United States, 60 minutes would do a piece on the wave that kills. In Australia: no big deal. Terrible what happened but at least a bloke died doing what he loved.
“Tombstones” is the fitting name of the most critical section. It is like Pipeline only way way longer. The day I was there one surfer broke his pelvis, another his vertebrae. I did not see either of them. They were brought away silently.
The closest I got to one of them was in the lineup of a spot close by later that day. A fellow surfer told me: “My mate got fucked this morning in Gnaraloo. We had to carry him to the car, he can barely sit. We wanted to drive him to the hospital (3 hours away) but he told us to go surfing. He is waiting in the car.” Smile.
True, it was absolutely pumping and I guess the guilt of making your friends miss out on epic surf would have been worse than some back pain. I thought about checking the poor guy out. But then again why should I stop surfing when even his mates didn’t? Later I heared he had a broken vertebrae. This is no joke. Permanent nerve damage can happen sitting in the car not being stabilized.
To be honest, I love the Aussie way. Even though it makes a surfing doctor pretty much superfluous. But actually, that is exactly what I want to be: Superfluous and surfing. As a doctor it is so easy to be needed and pretty hard to be left alone. And in the end the guy with the broken vertebra made it to the hospital still feeling his legs, his friends scored and they all have a great story for the next night out. You have to love the Aussies.