For many, the ocean is a place we like to call home. A welcomed escape from the “grounded” life, a fountain of youth where we can stay forever stoked. The Ocean elicits emotions, whether they’re ones of love, mystery, curiosity, or even fear, there’s always an unavoidable feeling that comes from the sea.
For Chris Schmidt the ocean was a place that made him feel "normal" again, A place that allowed him to forget the pain.
I have had a love affair with the ocean since before I can remember. Growing up in Cape Town South Africa, the ocean is just a part of life. It’s amazing how our brain stores images spanning our entire life.
I feel my 1st memory was my grandad cruising on a wave on an old school belly board, just going straight towards the beach with a big smile on his face. My entire family was and is still in love with the ocean.
I believe it’s a place I have been at home in since I was a kid. I was born close to it, and our weekends as a family, revolved around the ocean. Nothing mattered more than the ocean, where we’d spend hours in the water catching waves to shore over and over again. That's me below with my brother Nick in the Atlantic
It was Germany 1997, I was 21 at the time and heading back from the forest after an awesome trip. When as quickly as that we went head first into an oncoming car. I spent 7 days in a drug induced coma, with what the doctors described as a pretty good chance of not making it.
Suddenly everything was different for me both physically and emotionally. Prior to the accident, I was a different person with a different perspective on the world around me. I believe direction shifts happen to everyone that goes through this kind of experience. As for life's direction, some people manage without a nudge, some need a nudge, I was the latter of the two.
For me that nudge happened in an instant, I can still see the ICU ceiling, feel the warmth of sunlight, and recall trying to come to terms with the idea that I was now ‘physically challenged’.
I had lost the ability to move my left arm, It was paralyzed from my shoulder down to the fingers apart from that on a bad day I’m left with a severe ringing in my ears, as well as a heavy phantom pain in my limb. My love for the ocean turned into something I both longed for and feared. Even though I had a deep connection to the water, it scared me
I don’t think my mind will ever be in sync with my body again. I feel fully abled but I am not, the biggest fear for me to overcome was swimming, doing that, even in a lake scared me, simply because you really need two arms to be a good swimmer.
However, even though that was a limit at the time, I never stopped being active from cycling, running with my 3 dogs, to skateboarding, but wave riding one of my deep passions seemed inaccessible in my current state.
I’m lucky enough to have amazing friends and family, who tell me they don’t see me as physically challenged and support and encourage me, even when I’m hard on myself. It took many years, 13 to be exact to even test the fear of swimming. It was in 2010 when my friend Clinton Cowan saw the love I had for the ocean, and knew what it required for it to be a reality…swim fins for starters.
I can recall very vividly how we went out together after work in some typically harsh cape conditions windy and cold, me with fins, and him with his bodyboard. In that moment I realized I needed the ocean not only physically, but on a spiritual level.
I got the taste for seawater and felt the energy of the waves again. I took fear and moved it down on the priority list.
As I slowly started going back out more and more it was like an entire new world of joy opening up to me. Sure, being out there with one functional arm made me slightly skittish in the beginning, but I learned to handle it, you can’t let fear be the deciding factor. In time, I regained my confidence in the ocean and belief in my abilities, knowing each day brings a new lesson.
I believe water is our element, and handboarding has allowed me to reclaim a part of my life that I thought would never be possible. It’s affected my life on a multitude of levels, I refer to it as Wave Yoga. handboarding helped to deliver a whole new level of access to the ocean, the waves, and barrels, and real possibilities, something I only knew by looking at surfers from the beach.
Chris can be seen on any given day shredding some of the scariest, coldest, gnarliest water in the world off the Cape Town Coast or playing with his dogs on the beach, Riding his bike or hiking some of the most amazing mountains . A lesson and an inspiration to us all. Sometime life hands you lemons then go surfing and never let anything get in the way of doing the things you love to do