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Copping T12 compression fracture at Burleigh

February 4, 2016

T12 compression fracture

The wave

Jan 2, 2016, Burleigh Point, 4-5 foot, Gold Coast, Australia, low tide, 7.25am

My first wave was a long barrel from the point to the rocky, four or five foot. It was pretty square and I felt the fin come out then catch, then I tucked in and it was a perfect peeling section. I flicked off and paddled back round with a big grin. There was a guy paddling beside me with a big grin, we didn’t have to say more. The banks were just perfect… or so I thought.

I was opposite the cove when a set came. Five foot, no one inside, right place, I couldn’t believe my luck, I could get in early. Same thing as the first wave. Into it easy, then it sucked out. I felt the fin come out, felt it catch as I went into the bottom turn, looked down the line. The nose caught in some greeny blue backwash or cross swell as I looked down. It didn’t clip. It dug in and I landed in the greeny blue water feet out, knees up, on my bum. Then the thing sucked me over and I felt myself falling in some viscious dark sandy noise, wondering if my board was going to brain me or impale me. I was relaxed in that same knees up position that the back wash had left me in, feet pointing at the point. Where was my board in this thick lip. If I didn’t get cracked across the head, I expected underwater gymnastics and salt water and sand for breakfast, but the sandbank had sucked too dry for that. My arse came down like a sack of dinner plates on concrete with an wrecking ball impact I had never felt before. I felt my sacrum hit like a ball hammer. The shock transferred up my spine to the middle of my back. I was cognitive as the sandbank’s force drove up to the vertebral body opposite my solar plexus and crushed it like a Tim Tam. At the same times as everything went black, big white stars shot down my legs out my feet.

The warning

I’d slept in thinking the surf had dropped off. It hadn’t. I found out when I did my habitual check at my end of the street at Nobbys. I ran back home in my thongs with my empty coffee cup like David Wenham in Getting Square. In five minutes the 8″ 3″ Dick Van Stralen Reef Runner was strapped on the roof. In 15 minutes I had a park at Burleigh in the parallel parking across the road from the Nook. In 20 minutes I was running across the road in my “Such is life” shirt to say Hi to Anthony from the boardroom. He warned me it was shallow. He’d broken his back some years before in similar conditions but he was ok now. He’d had fun surfing wide. Don’t hex me I thought. I walked up the hill. ZZ Top Wayne was up there in his Wayfarers with a few girls. “Five boards have snapped already I don’t like that board’s chances.” he laughed. I laughed. Jogged away. Quickly down the damp shaded path of the Burleigh National Park, careful not to skid on the wet leaf mold. Another surfer just behind me, till he turned off at the stairs to the cove. I jumped in at the point and paddled out without getting smashed, pretty much straight to the take off point.

The ambulance

I may have blacked out a few seconds while I saw the stars. The hospital said I had seawater in my lungs. Blacked out or not I thought the stars meant I was paraplegic so when I tried to kick and I could, I made a mental good news note. My face just broke the surface in front of the hill. No one up there realised I’d broken my back. I made no signs of distress, just pulled the board to me, climbed wounded and whimpering on top. The thought for a moment of continuing to surf came. I did a mental check on myself however and surrendered to the dismal truth. I paddled around the point toward the beach in more pain and fear than I can ever remember. I caught some white water and cut across to the shallow Rocky, went to far and was almost on the rocks. I was lucky to be able to get out of danger by paddling wide. No one paddling out seemed to notice me. I asked a guy to help. Why he said. I broke my back. I didn’t want to argue. He helped me and stayed with me till the ambulance came. He lifted me under the shoulders to stand me up in the shoulder deep water. I felt my top torso sitting on my bottom torso at this tender point in the middle of my back. Not right/nice. “I think its best if I just lie on the board and you push me in.”

On the beach I lay silently face down in the shallows. A crowd gathered. A girl put my head in a lock. The lifesavers came, left, came back with a back board. I said where’s my board? Ten of them carried me. One of them an Aboriginal boy. I saw faces and the sky. I answered their questions. Where’s my board? We’ve got it mate we’ll keep it at the club house for you. A woman walking beside called the ambulance. Call the ambulance, one of the lifesavers said. “I’m talking to them now”. A nurse came into the first aid room did some tests on my feet toes and legs. They asked me for my next of kin. I said my elderly mother is in hospital I don’t want to worry her. They asked if I knew anyone at Burleigh to tell. I said I can’t remember anyone’s name. A man asked me where I was parked – do I want anything out of the car? If I leave my car there I’ll get a ticket. I told him my key was tied into my boardies. He parked the car where the inspectors couldn’t fine me. I wasn’t worrying about parking tickets.

It was a long time after the ambo guys came that we left the surf club’s first aid room. I could just see the dotted ceiling and faces. They rolled me onto the gurney. A girl sat with me in the ambulance. She gave me some painkillers and I told her some stories. I don’t know half the shit I said.

Compression fracture T12


The pain had started getting bad in the ambulance, and kept getting worse in Emergency despite the IV painkillers. They shipped me around, x-rayed me. I looked at the ceiling and their faces. there were a few other patients around at one stage. Some camaraderie. Maybe you’ve just got bruised kidneys. you’ve got no nerve damage.  I lay on my back and bent my legs. The doctor fussed waited and told me like he was telling me bad news. You’ve broken your spine. The surgeon landed beside me for a moment like a migrating bird on his long flight around the wards. You still have ligaments intact. You don’t need an operation. I asked questions. You shouldn’t bend your legs. They’ll know more in the neuro spinal ward. Save your questions for them. Hours passed. Painkillers came. Wardies and nurses shifts finished and started. Night came. Part 2 next




  1. Bron permalink

    Hi Mic -will show my kids at school –you are so lucky !

    • Hi Bron,
      That’s great if it can help one of your students avoid the same surfing injury or help someone with an injury like mine that’s why I wrote about it 🙂

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