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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Mon, 26 June 2017

Bodyboarder Stefan Dryer speaks about his horror injury in Skeleton Bay last week and how chuffed he was to meet his rescuer Eli Olson, who visited him in hospital this weekend, writes Spike.


ALL'S WELL: Rescuer Eli Olson checked in on Stefan Dreyer over the weekend. Photo supplied

podcast-icon-13Here's a mp4podcast
with Stefan
from his
bed this morning

If it were not for Olson's quick reaction and his use of the C-Spine stabilisation technique, the 36-year-old may have severed his spinal cord and become paralysed. Dreyer was airlifted to Cape Town on Thursday, and is in stable condition in Panorama Hospital, where he is in good spirits.

Olson was in town for the Jordy Smith event, where he was knocked out in Round Two. Dreyer's friends and family were really impressed at Olson's gesture to stop by and see Dreyer, who remarked what a cool, down-to-earth guy the young Hawaiian was. Olson was also very happy to learn that the man he saved had a wife, Corne, and two little daughters Karli and Janke, which added more poignancy to the rescue for him.

It has been a very painful first two days at Panorama for Dreyer, who also tore ligaments in his neck and throat on impact, according to old friend Alan Hayward, who recorded the Q&A with his friend this morning armed with some questions from me.


SAFE AND SOUND: Dreyer's wife and two little girls at his side in hospital. Photo supplied

A sequence of mini-miracles prevented his first visit to the Namibian break from ending in tragedy. He found out the hard way why locals call it the Donkey. The donkey kicks, of course.

Last Wednesday saw one of those eerie desert days when even the sound of silence is muffled by mist. Figures in wetsuits roamed the grey gloom. Flashes of white foam and claps of distant thunder denoted waves cracking on almost dry sand.

when even the sound of silence is muffled by mist Dreyer had been speeding down the line on a two foot wave getting barrelled, when eventually it pinched on him and he face-planted into dry sand. His body curled over him in a sickening scorpion flip. The impact snapped his neck. His able-bodied future hung by a thread, literally. His spinal chord was intact but horribly vulnerable.

Floating in the foam, stunned, the slightest movement would severe it. Enter Olson, who happened to see Dreyer’s wipeout. In the words of surf photographer Alan van Gysen: "He is so lucky. It's such an incredibly long wave. It could have been at a totally unpopulated section."


DESERT CREW: Dreyer (right) with part of the Cape Town crew before the accident. Photo supplied

Olson yelled for help. His friend Josh Muniz and Cape Town big wave surfer Matt Bromley, and others, rushed into the water. Bromley said he also saw Dreyer's wave.

"It was only like two foot. He got a little deep on the foam ball and went down. I heard someone shout, turned around, and saw he was floating on his side. Little did I know he was floating head down before, but by then he had managed to turn himself on his side to take a breath."

"I immediately thought he had a disclocated shouder. I was one of the guys closest to him, so I raced over. A pretty solid wave was approaching, and I decided to duck dive, thinking 'I'll get to him after the wave, take my leash off and then help.' Eli suddenly started shouting, 'GRAB HIM, GRAB HIM!'"


MATES: Alan Hayward (left) and Quintin Oliver are relieved their friend is OK. Photo supplied

"Stefan took the wave on the head, and Eli managed to find him under the water and wrapped his arms under Stefan's shoulders, securing his head with his hands. Only then did I see that his whole body was paralyzed and he had blood streaming down his face from his forehead and mouth."

"Eli held his head and Josh Moniz held his legs, as I untangled the mess of boards and leashes which wrapped around us. We got him to the beach and lay him down flat on the sand. It was only then that feeling starting coming back into his feet and hands. The boys on the beach had already called the ambulance and we laid lots of jackets and towels over him to keep him warm."

"It was a wake up call for me to always assume the worst and act on that! Luckily Eli got to him so quickly, otherwise Stefan could have potentially drowned or broken his neck far worse."

After moving him through the impact zone, with Olson holding him in the C-Spine embrace, and gently getting him to shore, the crew carefully packed sand under and around his head to build an ad-hoc beach pillow to stabilise him and keep his torso and neck straight. Moments later, a British surfer came up. By chance, he was an ER doctor.


BACK ON THE HORSE: Dreyer hopes to return to surfing waves like these. Photo Rob Kennedy

Dreyer was conscious and talking at this point. Apparently he joked to the crew that if they were going to cut his wetsuit off, they'd better buy him a new one. Paramedics arrived and Dreyer was stretchered to Walvis Bay via four by four.

From hospital in Walvis, he told friends: "Dit was ‘n bom! Amper niks water gehad nie en my kop eerste, hard geboor." (It was a bomb. There was just about no water and my head went first, and got drilled hard.)

As Van Gysen warns, pictures of barrelling waves always give dangerous places a romantic aspect. It becomes a mythical attraction to visit places like G-Land and Skeleton Bay, but they’re intense waves that need to be respected, no matter your experience.

One should always have backup medical aid, friends watching you and emergency numbers at hand.

It could mean the difference between life and death.

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