Wedged in by the stand-up paddler who had dropped in on her and the other surfer who had ‘snaked’ her after she had caught a wave out the back during a session at The Pass a month ago, the bone in her heel was shattered on a rock after she jumped off her board in shallow water to avoid being cracked across the head by the out-of-control and very big stand-up board.
“I hit the rock square on my heel and it felt like a sledgehammer,” she said.
“I knew it was smashed straight away. It was extreme, intense pain. I was screaming in pain.
“I managed to lie on my board and tried to paddle to shore, but the stand-up paddler couldn’t control his board and it was on top of me.
“He had no control over it at all.
“I let my board go when it was shallow enough to crawl out on my hands and knees.
“I was screaming out in pain. There were people on their daily walk and they just kept walking.
“Two nice young American guys came to my rescue and asked if they could help me out of the water. They sat with me until the ambulance came.”
To his credit, the stand-up paddler apologised and asked if he could do anything to help.
After initial treatment at Byron Bay Hospital, Deb spent 12 days in Lismore Base Hospital before being able to hobble out on crutches.
And she said it would be another three months before she would be able to put her heel on the ground.
It’s a major blow to the mother of three – two still at school – who has been surfing for 20 years, 15 of them competitively.
She was planning to defend the State over 35s longboard title she won this year at Coffs Harbour in June next year, but there’s a cloud over that now. More importantly, her lack of mobility is also impacting on her fledgling surfboard coffee table business.
Unhappily, injuries to surfers at The Pass are not uncommon. Fights, physical and verbal, are also not uncommon, especially on big days. Many of the injuries, said Deb, were caused by inexperienced surfers and learners on hire boards who knew nothing about surfing etiquette.
Local board hire operators, as a matter of course, should tell learners to avoid the popular breaks and also tell them the basics of surfing etiquette, she said.
However, the emergence of stand-up paddleboards had added a new dimension to potential conflicts at local breaks, particularly The Pass.
Deb said that because of their size, inexperienced people hiring stand-up boards should be made to have at least one lesson before heading out into the surf and be told to stay well away from popular breaks.
She said because of the size of stand-up boards, maritime authorities also should look at requiring stand-up surfers to have a small-craft recreational licence before they took their boards into the surf.
“I appreciate people have to learn,” she said.
“But you really have to learn away from the best spots to earn your stripes in the line-up.”
Longboard coach Ben Bennink, who with his wife Yoko runs the In Byron Bay Today web site, was at The Pass the day Deb was injured and noted the increasing number of beginners on hire boards in the line-up.
It was an accident and accidents did happen in the surf, said Ben, but there were deeper underlying issues ‘often spoken of quietly in the car park at The Pass and occasionally loudly with the frustration born of near misses and the fear of injury’.
Ben said anyone planning to hire a board who couldn’t honestly answer yes to any of the questions had no business paddling out into crowded surf and putting themselves and other surfers in danger.
He said learners had to understand it was not about surfer hierarchy, but public safety.
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