The ocean is a big part of my life. As a boat captain and surfer, the ocean and I have a deep connection. I’ve lived blocks from the ocean my whole life and have been surfing and sailing since I was a kid. The ocean is a part of my identity.
On August 1st 2016, I was at my local beach, it was chest high, real choppy, and I wiped out on the first wave. I remember everything. I hit the bottom and it felt like an explosion from my head to my waist, like BOOM and I saw a bunch of stars. I immediately knew that something was wrong, because I couldn’t handle myself, so I came up to the surface and yelled at the first person I saw and tried to hold on to my board.
I had no strength and the waves kept crashing as people were trying to get to me. I couldn’t hold on to my board anymore and my leash ended up breaking, so I was left without a flotation device and unable to swim. Luckily the guys were able to reach me and put me on some bodyboards and took me to shore. At first, everyone thought that it was just a sprain or a cramp, but I knew it was worse, because the pain was too intense and when the ambulance/first responders arrived, I was short of breath.
After arriving to the hospital and getting tests done, I found out that I had broken a vertebra in my spine. How serious it was, was still unknown, because I was in so much pain I couldn’t really feel my limbs, so I was pretty worried about whether or not I was going to be able to walk again. I ended up being transferred to another hospital to get surgery, but healthcare in Puerto Rico has really taken a hit with all of the financial issues on the island, so I sat in a hospital bed being doped up for a week before I could get worked on. I have prosthetic bones in my spine to replace and mend the area that was broken, and thankfully surgery went well (even though there’s a screw out of place) and I am able to walk. Ultimately it had to do with the way I hit the bottom and how I was handled afterwards, but it hasn’t been easy.
The doctors told me that I would never be able to run or compete again and that I wouldn’t be able to surf again, and I believed them. After the surgery, the pain was so bad, and I was in a neck brace forever and it was so uncomfortable that I literally thought that that was how it was going to be for the rest of my life. I started getting depressed and isolating myself from everyone, ignoring phone calls, messages; everything and everyone. Luckily I have some stubborn friends that wouldn’t leave me alone no matter what. They called and texted me constantly, sending uplifting messages and even found me a really good physical therapist to go to.
I had to continuously be reminded that not all recovery is the same. I wanted to have surgery and get up the next day and go back to my normal everyday life, but I couldn’t even walk 10 steps without having to stop and sit. Therapy helped a lot and I finally started walking more and was finally able to ride in a car and was able to go to the beach and watch my boys surf. I started being the photographer, but quickly became frustrated because I wanted to be in the water too. I have good friends though and they never let me get in, no matter how much I tried to convince them I was fine. I think they’re lucky I couldn’t really carry a board by myself yet.
Fast forward to 7 months later and I was talking to my friend about how I got back in the water one day and was body surfing a little, and mentioned these hand boards that seem real cool. This friend of mine has been one of my biggest supporters throughout this whole thing, and a couple of days later, she sends me a tracking number and says “your birthday/valentines gift is in the mail, be on the lookout.” Apparently she had gone online and researched Slyde handboards and figured out which one would probably be the best for me right now.
Once I received the board I was instantly stoked. I hadn’t felt that stoked in a long time and I’ve been in the water almost every day since. I do have to take it easy since I’m not fully healed, and still have a lot of pain at times, but I’m super grateful for a company like yours that has these hand boards and has allowed me to get back in the water. What I’ve taken the most away from this experience, is to never give up, how to get to know my body again, and just having a greater appreciation for life. Even when the odds are against you. If I would have listened to the doctors I’d probably still be laying in bed with a neck brace.