Finding Passion in Surf Photography When One Cannot Surf
Surf Photography has always interested me and as an artist, the ocean is a big source of inspiration. I love the ocean. I love that I can take a surfboard and glide along on the power of the ocean like I’m flying. So, when I broke my back-foot in December of 2019, surfing was temporarily off the cards for me. During my rehabilitation process (which is still ongoing at the time of writing), I longed for the ocean. I longed to be back on the water with my friends and Mother Nature. I yearned to get more creative with my surf photography here in Tanzania. For 3 of the longest months of my life (not including the last month of pregnancy, which everyone knows is really a billion months), that was absolutely out of the question.
While I was surfing my hometown break early one morning, I caught a small but powerful wave at low tide. I hit the sandbar at speed, and got thrown off my board at an odd angle and my leg unfortunately didn’t absorb the impact. My left tibia broke into 3 or 4 different pieces towards my ankle and my fibula broke clean apart up towards my calf. Boom, I was instantly crippled. I knew immediately that I had broken my leg even before the pain had started. knowing that I was at risk of drowning, I knew I had to get myself to shore. Even in knee deep water, my biggest pain reaction is fainting. I knew that If I let myself faint, I would likely drown. So many things went through my head in the space of a few seconds but thankfully the pain had kicked in when I had tried to stand. The scream that came from within me was blood curdling. Screaming, while horrible to listen to on the playback on the GoPro, was my only chance. If I kept screaming, someone would hear me before I fainted and I wouldn’t drown.
Eventually, a few good samaritans on the beach came to my rescue and called an ambulance. I was soon on my way to hospital where an Orthopaedic Surgeon pieced my leg back together via keyhole surgery. The surgery was a success and I now sport a sexy blue titanium surgical nail (rod) that runs from my knee to my ankle, a few titanium screws and a bunch of tiny scars to show for it. I’m total cyborg surfer now. Like Seven of Nine, only less Borg-ish.
I was non-weight bearing for 6 weeks and started intense Physio Therapy as soon as I was given permission by the Surgeon. The PT immediately had me in the pool to try and re-build my muscles. It’s surprising the amount of mobility and strength you lose when a limb is inactive for just a few weeks. I basically had to teach my leg to be a leg again. And it was painful. There were times when I wondered if that was my new normal. Would I walk normally again? Would I surf again? Would I forever limp? It was all so uncertain, but I was intent on working hard and coming out of it. I really wanted to surf again.
Even though I was determined to go back to surfing, I wasn’t allowed to. However, the one thing I was allowed to do was swim, and I swam my heart out. I religiously did my physio therapy exercises multiple times a day and I would watch my friends from the beach as they would catch bombing waves. I didn’t give up despite wanting to, despite how much pain I was constantly in, despite one bad Doctor telling me I wouldn’t surf again. Then, as if it was nothing, one day I was allowed back into the ocean. It might not have been to surf, but it was the next best thing. I felt so relieved to have reached that milestone that just a few months before had seemed so out of my reach.
When the day came and the surf was on, I got myself a good pair of swim fins and made the long swim over the reef at high tide to the lineup. I took with me my Nikonos V camera, loaded with some Ilford HP5+ film and a wrist strap. At this point, I still limped extremely badly and needed help getting back out over the reef once the tide went out. It was hard, but I was just so happy to be back in the lineup and I would have endured a 30 minute hobble over the coral if I had to just so I could do it. It felt amazing.
That experience was also very humbling. To be out there with the surfers, although not surfing, was relatively new to me. I always took my GoPro when I surfed but I had never been able to bring myself to switch my beloved longboard for a set of swim fins to be IN the waves. So, at just under 3 months from my accident, and not being able to walk without some form of assistance, I was bobbing around in the Indian Ocean, thanking the surf goddesses for allowing me back.
It was at this moment that I had my first sigh of relief that things were probably going well with my rehab. It’s very hard to stay focused and motivated for months at a time. So many people had told me they were never the same after suffering a similar injury. So many people liked to tell me I’d never walk the same way again or be able to use my leg the same way again. Many people told me that I would probably never surf again. I refused to listen to all of it, and while I was kicking myself around in breaking waves and pointing my lens at a bunch of surfers, I realised I felt no pain. I felt normal. I didn’t feel crippled at all. And I was having the time of my life.
Sometimes, going through a traumatic event can carry a silver lining that you aren’t always aware of at the time. It’s only later on when you have a moment of peace and clarity do you realise how lucky you are. I was lucky that I only broke my leg and not my neck or spine that day. I was lucky there were people on the beach to get me help. I was lucky that I didn’t drown. I was lucky that while going through rehab was horribly exhausting, it made me realise how much I love surf photography. Breaking my leg allowed me to step back from a sport I love so dearly; loved so much, in fact, that I refused to give up waves to actually SHOOT surf photography IN the surf. During this time, I didn’t have a choice. If I wanted back in the ocean and back in the lineup, surf photography was my only option.
Looking back, I’m very thankful that I had to go through this process. Without it, I’m not certain I would have fallen in love with surf photography or the Nikonos V camera the way that I have. When I couple that with some Ilford black and white film and a gimpy leg, the results are more than I could have expected. Now that I am back surfing and almost walking without a limp again, the biggest issue I face going forward, is that I will not have an excuse to switch surfing waves for shooting waves. I will have to make the conscious choice to NOT surf. And as any surfer will tell you, that is like asking you not to breathe.
If you would like to chat to me about broken legs, surfing surf photography in Tanzania, the Nikonos V or film, please contact me on hello(@)cjeklund.com. You can also say hello directly through the Contact section of this site, located in the top right corner of the main menu.