Jinwon Soul / Staff reporter
Death comes to everyone. However, nobody knows how and when death will occur in their lives. All human beings fear death, but they usually pretend to forget and deny the fact they eventually ‘die.’ People hear about deaths all over the media, sometimes deaths of someone they know, or even their loved ones. They fear how death will come it their lives when they hear such news, but they tend to swiftly forget and go back to their daily lives.
People who have had near-death experiences say that the glimpse at death allowed them to learn great life lessons that even changed their lives. Near-death experiences, also called NDEs, are triggered when a person experiences a life-threatening accident and is very close to dying.
Lots of athletes experience life-threatening injuries and accidents. Especially in surfing, there are countless unexpected factors that can hurt a person. Injuries, whether small or big, can affect one’s career or life as an athlete. Here are some surfers that have had near-death experiences that affected their lives and some-even changed their lives.
Billy Kemper is a well-known American pro surfer, also known as the ‘modern-day surfing legend’ and the best big-wave surfer in the world.
“It was straight-up life or death,” says Kemper about the life-threatening accident he had faced when the waves wiped him out.
The horrific accident that caused the critical injuries to Kemper, occurred during February a year ago, when he went on a trip to Morocco to accomplish his big-wave strike mission.
Kemper says the accident destroyed him when he was wiped out hard on the wave. The injury was severe, and Kemper slid into unconsciousness after the accident. His body was slammed onto a rock as he was wiped out by a wave when he made a small mistake, which resulted in his right side of the body being destroyed completely.
“Knocked me out unconscious. Collapsed my lung. My pelvis was broken down the middle, I had to get my knee reconstructed, the injury-list goes on and on,” says Kemper, about the injuries sustained from the accident. “I was just hyperventilating and blacking out through the pain, you can’t forget the pain that much.”
Kemper says the accident has changed him and taught him lessons that he could not have realized otherwise. When the waves wiped Kemper out, his friends immediately jumped into the ocean and saved him without any moment of hesitance. He learned that his family, friends, mentors, and the people who stood with him are everything that he has in his life and are what truly matters. He also added how the incident has changed him and taught him lessons that he would not have learned from the past 29 years of his life.
“I learned more from this injury and this road to recovery than I’ve learned in all 29 years, now 30 of being alive,” says Kemper. “It’s crazy what you can take from something so serious and so threatening to your own life. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve taken so much from this.”
“I’m stronger in a lot of ways now than I was then, especially mentally,” says Kemper about how he developed through such a horrific accident. “I went through a lot; I’ve seen trauma and pain that I didn’t know existed and I now understand what fear is. Yeah, there are small things that I’m still working on. But the day you stop working is the day you stop winning, so I’ll work as long as I want to win.”
As opposed to the Kemper’s fans’ worries, Kemper came back to surfing within a year of recovery. Even though his experiences may have cost him his surfing career, he came back fresh and stronger mentally and physically. Kemper is now called ‘a living surfing legend’ and is better than ever.
Bethany Hamilton is a professional American surfer who has made many accomplishments throughout her lifetime. The well-known story of her accident was made into a movie called “Soul Surfer”.
On October 31, 2003, Hamilton got in an accident that changed her life drastically just at the age of 13. It was a peaceful day until Hamilton went out to the ocean, as usual, to surf.
“I was laying on my board sideways. And then … the shark came up and grabbed a hold of my arm,” describes Hamilton, about how she got in an accident.
The shark bit her arm as she was relaxing on her board above the ocean. The shark bit her and dragged her back and forth, as Hamilton held on to her board trying to get away from the shark. When the shark let go of her, she was shocked at how red the colour of the ocean turned, due to her bleeding. Losing her arm caused her life to change in ways she never thought it would have.
This recurring moment in her life led to a book, documentary, and feature film written about her called “Soul Surfer.” Hamilton has also made many recurring roles on television, including when she won third place on “The Amazing Race” in 2014 with her husband, Adam Ricks.
In the league’s fifth event of the year, Hamilton finished last in the first-round group, but she won second-chance heat, beating the world’s No. 1 surfer, Tyler Wright of Australia. Hamilton won in round 3 and the quarterfinal, just before getting eliminated in the semifinals. This was Hamilton’s top result since losing her left arm to a shark attack.
Even after her accident, Hamilton chose to move forward with her life with a positive attitude, and continued to pursue her passion for surfing. “At the end of the day, it’s just putting it together and catching the right waves and surfing my best. I can compete well against these girls, ” Hamilton told a World Surf League interviewer.
Despite having her world turned upside down from her incident, Hamilton continued to pursue her dreams and preserve them through the moment that almost took her life away. Within a month of her recovery, she was able to get back into competing in surfing. Now, Hamilton is back surfing on a full-time schedule. It is said that Hamilton wants to qualify for the WSL Women’s Championship Tour in 2021.
Greg Long is an American surfer, known as one of the best big waves surfers in the world. He had a near-death experience while he was surfing on the coast of Southern California while he was on his never-ending journey to find big waves to surf.
While he was surfing, a small mistake led him to fall into the deepest floor of the ocean. The tremendous amount of waves pushed him deeper and deeper into the ocean. He knew he needed to get to the surface as soon as possible because otherwise, he would die within a few minutes. However, the turbulence and the impact of the wave were so huge that it seemed impossible for him to survive. Luckily, he reached the surface before it was too long, and was found by his friends, unconscious.
As Long got moved on the back of the vessel, they called the Coast Guard to send the rescue helicopter to transport Long to get proper medical treatment. As he was waiting for the helicopter’s arrival on the back of the vessel, he slowly started to regain consciousness.
The first thing that came up in his head while he was waiting was ‘his life.’ Not the life of the professional surfer, not all the trophies and medals he earned, and not fame and name titles he built over the years. What he thought about after the moment of experiencing a glimpse of death was who he was.
“When you come so close to losing it all, the things that truly matter in this world come into sharp focus.” Long talks about his thoughts while being in the face of death. “I thought about who I was, and by that, I am not talking about Greg Long the professional big-wave surfer. Contest victories, XXL Awards, materialistic possessions, and job titles were the furthest things from my mind.”
“Instead, I thought about who I was as a person. Was I kind and respectful to others? Did my life have a purpose? Did I make a difference for the better in this world? Did I take things for granted? Could I have given and shared more? Did I appreciate this crazy ride as much as possible? And, had I died that day, would my friends, family, and people I hold so dear in my life know how much they meant to me,” Long said in the video about Greg Long’s near-death experience at Cortes Bank.
It was hard for him to get back to surfing after experiencing a moment of death. The mental trauma and the thought of how easy it is to die while surfing distracted him from continuing to surf. However, Long overcame the mental and physical trauma and came back to the surfing industry within a few months of recovery.
Despite overcoming the trauma and going back to surfing, he decided to take a step back. He decided not to let the lessons he learned from the accident slip away. Big-wave surf used to be Long’s number one priority, but after the accident, he realized that it is important to take care of those who are around him and seek the balance between his surf life, friends, hobbies, families, and relationships.
Long says he is happy that he was able to experience being close to death. He claims that it taught him lessons that he was not able to realize in any other way. The accident that took a toll on his life also allowed him to grow, face challenges without fear, and pursue real happiness other than fame, money, and honour.
“What matters is that we all strive to go forward having fun, walking our unique paths, and helping others along the way. What matters is that we pursue our own personal happiness and dreams with passion and dedication,” says Kemper. “What matters is that we enjoy this crazy life, successful rides and heavy wipeouts alike, and continue to learn and grow from the lessons they teach.”