I broke my back in December 1998 in Cape Town in a car accident caused by incompetent hijackers. The car we were traveling in flipped, throwing me half out of the window and snapping my spine. The car landed on the girl that was driving, severely burning her. The ambulance services fought to ‘claim the scene’, it was four hours before we arrived at hospital.
I was 27 years old, Captain of a surf charter yacht in Indonesia. I was living in board shorts surfing some of the best waves in the world and getting paid for it. Life couldn’t have been better. I had a string of different girlfriends and felt ten foot tall.
I loved using my legs. I was the kind of guy who kept super fit. I never took a lift in a building – not that there were many around the islands of Indonesia! I was often doing push ups whilst talking to friends. If I wasn’t surfing, I was free-diving, spear fishing, running on the beach. I didn’t sit still. I’d been like this all my life, always chasing the action.
Three months before the accident, I was sitting on the yacht with a 50 year old ‘superman’ in Sumatra.
We had just had a great session in the surf and were discussing our greatest fears.We agreed that losing our legs would be the ultimate disaster. No more surfing or being physically free.
Just two months later, his paraglider collapsed and he got flung against Table Mountain, plummeting to the ground, breaking many major bones in his body. Just after he was discharged, I ended up in the same room in the same hospital. I had a broken back. I was fully paralysed from the waist down, complete T12.
Without insurance facing huge hospital bills, I was more than physically broke. I was left questioning, was this a coincidence? Or do we have the ability to attract our fears? I believe that as humans we have the ability to attract what we want into our lives, to create your own reality so to speak. Subconsciously perhaps we attract that which we fear. Conversely we attract that which we desire, if we hold the thought for long enough.
I started this life of mine in a chair sleeping on my the living room floor of my parent’s house. I was struggling, feeling sorry for myself. One day, a friend of mine told me ‘Wind your neck in punk, you’ve hit the wall, now start climbing’. It was hard to hear but it was what I needed to hear, the best ‘psycho-whatya-ma-call-it’ I’ve ever heard. I”m not saying its easy, living that is, ‘differently abled’ or not. The frustrations and limitations we encounter are enough to drive anyone to drink.
I spent a few of my early years in a chair between Mexico, Brazil and USA trying to find myself with drugs, drink, girls and guns, with the odd healer thrown in for balance. I wanted to die and had a go at Russian roulette high on a Mexican cocktail we smoked not drank. I found the idea of shooting myself messy but I needed to ‘finish the job’. Drowning. That was it. That was the way I decided to go. Rio Nexpa, a good left hand point break would be the place of execution. I asked a friend to carry me out past the shore break – he didn’t know my plan at the time, poor bugger. I paddled out on a borrowed 8ft long board, I felt like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, white, skinny and soulless.
Easy I thought, drown in the surf, leave this life doing what I loved. The problem is the human spirit. It’s a funny thing, it makes us want to survive, cling to life and savour each breath. I caught that wave that was supposed to drown me, a two foot ‘foamy’, nothing like the solid ten foot surf I was used to. I made a surprise discovery, a wave is a wave and instead of drowning I had one of the best waves of my life. I wanted more! Two months later, the standard joke on the beach was, ‘When you gonna finish the job Bruno? Tomorrow?’
I went from 50kgs of ‘gecko like limbs’ to 70kgs of ripped muscle. My emotional strength started creeping back. The hottest girl on the beach who was being chased by every bronzed good looking surfer, wanted me! Life had returned – sort of. The ocean and surfing had brought me back from suicide.
My spirit for adventure returned. I sit a lot more but I’ve definitely not stopped. I’ve sailed the Indian Ocean, surfed secret waves alone, survived the Asian Tsunami of 2004 by getting my yacht over a 30 foot wave, escaped gun toting bandits off the Tanzanian coast, visited shamans and healers in the hills doing weird and wonderful things, ‘back-packed’ on a quad bike around Portugal with my tent and pots, I’m
willing to try anything in a chair.
At the same time I’ve uncontrollably pee’ed all over an expensive carpet onboard a super yacht, been delirious with bladder infections deep at sea and crapped in the bushes on a billionaire’s property in Monaco whilst fending off his dogs. We can choose to treat life as a comedy or take it too seriously. We choose to shine as humans, unafraid to be the best or choose to collapse in upon ourselves. The human spirit is powerful, seize it and use it! And yes it’s as easy as that.
Thirteen years later living what feels like a thousand different lives, I now own my own 50 foot catamaran, I surf great waves with all the ‘up-rights’ and I have a beautiful girlfriend. I’m back to where I was, the only thing missing is the legs. I’ve learnt to see the humour in it. My friends call me ‘chickenstix’, ‘wheels’, ‘worm’, ‘leggy’, you name it I’ve been called it.
Just yesterday I had a friend threaten to ‘overturn me’ when I commented in a non too polite manner on his belly wobble!
The next plan is to build a 60 foot fully wheelchair accessible yacht, for all differently abled folks – blind, legless, nut jobs, delinquent teenagers – the whole shebang. It will be an eco friendly floating platform of inspiration, hope, adventure and fun. It will be a real rehab centre for those that need to get their butts whipped into shape by the wonders of nature – and ‘Captain Zen’ (this is what the crew call me). I’ve experienced the healing qualities of nature and the ocean, now it’s time to share it. I’m working to raise the one million dollars needed to build this yacht properly. It will come – of that I have no doubt – plus my girlfriend is super clever so I’m sure she will think of something – haha!
So for those people out there that feel unsure about life or themselves and generally don’t know what the @#$% is going on, remember everyone on the planet is disabled in some way whether it be physically, spiritually or mentally. And yes, some days I need to read this myself and take my own advice!
The job is simply just to get on with the job, spend as much time in nature as possible, dream wildly and believe in yourself.