Bloodsport: Nick Murray.
Hey, so my name’s Nick. I was born in South Africa and moved to the UK as a kid. I started as a stand-up when I was 10 years old but by my mid teens had fallen in love with the boog.
At 19, after a year working and bodyboarding around Australia and the US I went to University in Wales, where I linked up with a tight crew of local surfers and bodyboarders. The early 2000s was a killer time to be a bodyboarder in the UK – No Friends and Tensions reigned supreme, there were 3 magazines, the local professional scene exploded with Danny Wall, Kirsten Prisk, Rob Barber et al and there was this sense of optimism that bodyboarding would finally step up and get the respect it deserved from the mainstream.
It was with this sense of optimism that in 2003 I decided to work half the year, save my money and spend the rest of the year chasing the heaviest and most technical waves within my ability to surf. I wasn’t good enough to be a pro, but I had always been comfortable in big water and wanted to challenge myself.
For the next three years my travels took me all over, from the Hebrides to Morocco, before one day I flew over to Portugal to get ready for a swell lighting up the charts. I surfed around for a couple of days and made some friends who introduced me to a spot in the south west. The day my accident happened, I was fit, confident and the most capable I’d ever been.
It was the late afternoon when I went in. I was driven over there by two locals. One sat the session out and the other had his surfboard snapped on his very first wave. It must have been in November or December and the landscape was still orange and yellow, stark against the green of the Atlantic. The sky out to sea was grey and lined with black, the sun illuminated the scene through breaks in the cloud and the air was charged with electricity, in advance of the coming storm. The waves usually break in an A-frame, or lots of little disordered peaks, but due to the size of the swell that day, waves were marching in at an angle, smashing against the right hand cliffs and then ricocheting off across the bay and smashing into the left hand cliffs. Every now and then, one wave would meet the previous wave and create a wedge. The wave faces were between 16-18ft and looked surprisingly heavy.
I surfed for about 40 minutes, with my confidence growing. There were a handful of people out but no one really seemed to have these conditions dialled in. I took off on a left and looked for the wedge’s lip – I misjudged it. I arrived a split second too early got smashed by the adjoining wave, which then pile drove me down with all its force. I had the wind knocked out of me and rose to the surface coughing, shaken and embarrassed. I was rattled but stayed out for another 30 minutes – always get out on a high.
I was driven back to the place I was staying at and I lay on my bed. There was a dull ache in my chest, but not too much pain. A clicking noise could be heard as I breathed in and out. What I later found out was I had suffered an impact pneumothorax.
The impact of the wave was the same as being hit by a truck. A hardened air pocket on the surface of the lung (called a bleb) had burst due to the impact and ripped off a chunk of lung. The clicking noise was air escaping from the hole and entering my chest cavity. I flew home the next day, which by some miracle didn’t kill me as Drs told me later the ever-filling air in my chest cavity, with no route of escape, should have expanded to the point of collapsing both my lungs…and then I would have died.
To cut a long story short, the pain steadily increased and a few days later I was in hospital waking up from an emergency operation to repair the lung. Keyhole surgery had been performed through three incisions in my side and back, but the surgeon told me he had underestimated the severity of the injury and should have cut me open and done open-chest surgery instead. As a result, the recovery time would take longer and the right side of my chest (to this day) is completely numb.
To fix the lung, they had to sew it up and then attach gauze to the chest wall. They then inflate the lung and stick it to the gauze, hoping it will stay stuck and not collapse again. They then insert a tube the size of a garden hose between your ribcage with one end inside you grating on your chest wall and the other leading to a small plastic tub containing your fluid and blood, which you carry around with you when you are able to walk again.
I spent 3 weeks in a hospital bed and suffered a fully collapsed lung later on in week 2, which is an excrutiating level of pain I can’t begin to describe.
For the first week you lie in bed, in a morphine haze vomiting ever 10 minutes day and night, until all that is left to vomit is green stomach bile.
After 2 weeks I was able to take short walks and then collapse exhausted and aching in bed. After 3 weeks I went home and until the 3 month mark I was like a baby, only able to do one short walk outside, with the help of family, and then collapse asleep for hours afterwards with fever dreams. By 6 months the walks had turned into small runs and by 12 months I was back in the gym and running a few times a week.
Weirdly, I had been a little depressed prior to the accident and it snapped me out of my funk. It seemed to give me a shake and I was super motivated the entire time to work hard and recover.
A year later, I was fit and healthy enough to get back to work and surf again, although it took me 2 years to surf heavy waves again. I can’t remember my first surf afterwards, although I can remember feeling incredibly thankful. My lung capacity has been reduced slightly, my chest is numb and the lung aches sometimes, but it’s not been a big deal. I’m pushing 40 now and have met all my fitness goals, although I have to work a little harder than the average person.
The biggest take away from the experience was that injuries are the product of an active life. It’s unreasonable to expect you’ll get through life unscathed, without injuries or tough times on land. Like the old quote says when you find yourself in the shit: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Much respect to the pros who surf all conditions, all the time, never mind how they’re feeling mentally or physically. And big respect to all the hungry young lions coming through who are vital to building a healthy worldwide scene again. Shout out to old heads Ga, Kyle, Dyfrig, Cynrig, Leigh and JD for many happy Uni surfs.