Broken bones and busted heads welcome surfers

John-sonLocal adaptive surfers struggled today in La Jolla, California while preparing for the Surfing America, US Surfing Championships this Wednesday.

In their first day of surfing the much stronger waves of the west coast, Brock Johnson and Ernie Johnson faced 6-8 foot faces breaking 200 yards outside, with a heavy current, at La Jolla beach. Conway native Ernie Johnson,  a quadriplegic with limited use of his hands, eagerly volunteered to go first, with the Adaptive Surf Project team providing support in the water.

“The moment we got to the beach, we could tell that the water was going to be rough,” Johnson said. “The closer we got, we realized that it was going to be really rough conditions. But, we are surfers and we knew that we had to get out there and give it a shot.

We were on our way out, and the waves got bigger and rougher, but we still found our way to make it out. The waves jacked up bigger than we were accustomed to, knocking me off the board. As the board got close to me to get back on, it got rocketed on a set wave and I was just coming up from the white water. I saw the wave hit it. It was 10-15 feet away and it was coming fast. And then….crunch. I knew instantly that my nose was broken. I immediately looked down to see if my nose was bleeding. At first it wasn’t, and then it turned on like a faucet and blood started rushing out of my nose. I was dazed for a moment, then I realized how far out in the ocean we were and how serious the situation was. Luckily, my team was there to help.”

Johnson was rushed to the beach and his wheelchair. With blood pouring out of Johnson’s nose, the adaptive team began evaluating the situation and decided that a doctor’s visit could wait. With the national competition just two days away, Johnson wanted to push ahead with training. “My plans are to get back out there, he said. “Unless I wake up tomorrow and can’t see, I plan to surf again tomorrow. That’s one of the things you learn with a spinal cord injury, things are difficult for us every single day. On our best day, something’s hard. I broke my nose, it’s a little harder to breath, but we’ll find a way to make it work.”

The Johnson struggle continued, this time with nationally ranked Brock Johnson. The Myrtle Beach surfer was eager to get out into the surf, despite the deteriorating conditions. “We have to surf in this stuff later this week, we might as well get used to it,” said Brock Johnson. “I just wanted to get some practice in these conditions.”

Paddling out with his team, it was well over a half hour before he was able to make it outside. The first ridden wave of the session took its toll though.

Adaptive team member Jim Holland was working the mid level of water, about 75 yards out, “I noticed Brock cutting a right down the face of the wave. When he fell off the board, I was in line to get it as it raced to the beach. Another wave came through and turned the board parallel to the beach and pushed the board toward me, knocking me on the back of the head. The wave flipped me over and I was face down in the water, knocked out,” Holland said.

Two of the adaptive team members rushed to Holland, pulling him out of the water. “The next thing I knew, I was on the beach with others around me. I’m glad I wore a life jacket, it was the first time I’ve ever worn one while working with the team.”

While Holland was being rushed to the beach, Johnson was patiently treading water, waiting for the return of his board while lifeguards rushed out to provide additional assistance. Fellow adaptive members had the situation under control, but decided to call it a day.

Terrel Rawson made the trip to the beach, but decided to delay his surf session for another day, while fellow teammate Veronica Tario stayed back due to an illness.

The adaptive team will head to the competition site tomorrow for a session in Oceanside, California with nationals set for Wednesday.

Related story and more info here.

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