Wrightsville Beach – Dr. George Huffmon has treated bodysurfing injuries before in his seven years in Wilmington, but the neurosurgeon said he’s never seen a summer like this one.
In the past month, Huffmon has treated three bodysurfers paralyzed after waves drove them into area beaches, breaking their necks. Each was left with severely impaired movement in their arms. Two will be unable to roll their own wheelchairs, he said.
“It has just been unreal,” he said. “I have never seen the spate of bodysurfing accidents I have seen this year.”
Huffmon’s experience makes clear that bodysurfing can be more dangerous than most people realize. In another case this month, rescuers in Surf City revived a 57-year-old bodysurfer found floating facedown in the water with a broken neck.
Of course, people bodysurf on local beaches every day without incident. Swimming with the waves costs nothing and requires no equipment, but the ocean always demands respect, said Tim Casinelli, a four-time world champion bodysurfer who lives in Oceanside, Calif.
A 1-foot wave packs a lot of power; a 3-foot wave breaks with tremendous force, he said.
“Even if you were the best linebacker in your football team, that wave is stronger than anyone you’ve come up against ever,” he said. “The power of the ocean can pretty much take your life and change it in a second.”
Casinelli said safety needs to be learned first. Bodysurfers should angle on the waves and roll like a log rather than go head-over-heels, he said.
Neil Brooks, who was recently bodysurfing near Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier, said inexperienced surfers often swim straight toward the shore, which can hurl them from the top to the bottom of the wave.
Dave Baker, the head of ocean rescue at Wrightsville Beach, said he had not seen a trend toward more bodysurfing injuries and saw no need for alarm. But he warned that all who go in the ocean should realize its power and their limits.
Huffmon said he’s seen enough injuries to make him stop bodysurfing. And he encourages others to follow suit.
“The public does not realize what a dangerous thing it is,” he said. “Use a dang Boogie board or something.”