Interview: How Is Josh Moniz Six Months After Breaking His Neck In Portugal? - Stab Mag
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Interview: How Is Josh Moniz Six Months After Breaking His Neck In Portugal?

“I couldn’t be happier with where I am at the moment”

features // Mar 10, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 6 minutes

On Thursday, October 7th, 2021 beloved Hawaiian surfer and Stab High competitor Josh Moniz ruptured his C6-C7 disc, and fractured his C6 facet while surfing Supertubos in Peniche, Portugal. Prior to the injury, Josh had fallen out of the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira and, along with fellow Hawaiian and WSL Challenger Series surfer Mason Ho, made his way north to the Portuguese Pipeline to wash off the loss and prepare for the next CS competition in France. 

Mikey C wrote a lengthy piece in November describing how exactly the injury occured way back in November. You can read that here. The short of it is this, Josh pulled into a barrel over a shallow sandbar on what initially looked like the wave of the day. Josh went around the first section, opting to pull into the second-section that was quickly revealing itself to be a closeout. (From Mikey C) At this point, Josh did what any knowledgeable surfer would do: straightened out to avoid copping the wave on the head. After waiting for what he believed to be a sufficient amount of time, Josh kicked his board toward shore and jumped feet first into the flats, so that he could penetrate, get under the explosion, and come out the other side. Standard procedure.  

“It went from looking like the best wave of the day to a wonky closeout,” said Josh. 

Unfortunately for Josh, this maneuver that he’s done thousands of times — often on waves significantly larger than this — went terribly awry. Josh’s jump coincided with the heaviest part of the lip falling onto the wave’s flat bottom, creating a biblical part in the sea that exposed dry sand. Because Josh didn’t have enough separation between himself and the lip, he fell straight into this hole and was driven down by the curtain of falling water, multiplying the force of the impact. To put this in perspective, it’d be like getting body-slammed onto concrete by a 300-pound guy…who had fallen from an eight-foot ladder. 

Josh, six months after the episode, is back surfing again. Not on a soft top log either, he’s back to riding his shortboard and planning to get back competing on the QS in the not-too-distant-future. After surgery and months out of the water following his nightmarish freak accident, Josh told Stab about his recovery process, his shift in perspective after nearly having his mobility taken away from him, and how he’s reframed this incident as a ‘second chance’ at life that’s learned invaluable lessons from.

Surfing’s weird. Sometimes a really bad situation ends up being fine, and conversely, a fine situation ends up really bad. Josh here encounters the latter.

Stab: So you’ve started surfing again

Josh: Yeah I surfed two weeks ago for the first time but I’ve been taking it pretty easy. It’s actually pretty strange, I’ve gotten so used to planning my days around PT that I forget I can actually surf. I’ll be sitting around the house like ‘what can I do to kill time?’ and then I remember I can go and have a session now. 

What are you riding? Big soft top log setup or are you back on your shorty?

I actually got cleared to surf over a month ago but I wasn’t in a hurry. The priority was getting my strength back. Plus, I knew I wanted to jump straight on a shortboard so I was happy a while longer. I’m taking it slow, trying to be okay with falling is my number one concern right now because of my neck, but I’m back on the shortboard. 

What therapies have you been using for rehab?

I had to work on everything from my feet up. I was really concerned about the whole left side of my body, more so than my neck. I have a lot of left-side nerve damage, so restrengthening my left arm and leg has been the main focus. The last month has been pretty awesome, everything has seemed to pick up speed, strength, my fine motor skills are improving. I couldn’t be happier where I am at the moment.

What does that look like? 

I’ve been lifting weights and working on my mobility, nothing crazy though. I had to go slow because of the nerve damage. I couldn’t overexert my body. The hardest part was knowing the difference between whether I was sore from pushing it too far or whether it was the nerve damage that needed restrengthening. After the first few months I started getting a better understanding of what pain was good and bad. 

How has the accident changed the way you think about your health in general?

I’ve never been a health freak or a gym rat or anything like that. I trained when I needed to before big events but this injury put everything into perspective. How important it is to be healthy to prevent injuries as opposed to having to deal with them after the fact. When you lose sensation in your body and everything goes limp from the neck down it’s really freaky. I never want to feel like that again. I think it’ll be physical therapy for the rest of my life. 

How close are you to a complete recovery?

I’m aiming to be back at 100% in a month. Physically I think I could be out at Pipe and Sunset now but mentally I’m not there yet. There’s still some anxiety around falling off and getting pounded, and I think that could translate into tensing up and making errors. Baby steps. 

Are you consciously trying to change the way you fall now? 

It was a freak accident and sometimes you can’t really avoid falling awkwardly. It’s out of our control. The anxiety of getting in the water again is a mental challenge that I’m actually excited about. I’m really keen to get back to where I was and then further that. But who knows I’m sure I’ll have a couple of little panic attacks along the way.

Any lingering pain or discomfort?

There’s minor stuff on my left side. I only regained full sensation in my hand about a month ago hence why I’m being cautious. I’ve never dealt with any major injuries before, just odd niggling injuries here and there. 

What sort of specialists have you been working with?

I’ve been lucky that since I got back to Hawaii I haven’t had too many scares that have required specialist help. It’s been a pretty steady improvement since I started doing PT post-surgery but I have consulted a couple of people overseas to make sure I was on track and hitting milestones. 

What have you learned through this experience?

I appreciate what I have a lot more than I used to. I almost had my mobility taken away from me and I’m looking at this injury as my second chance. It’s allowed me to step back and think about the life I want to live, what program I want to run, the importance of staying present. I’m grateful for it in that sense.

How has the support been?

It’s been incredible, overwhelming at times. So many people have gone out of their way to make me feel just a little more comfortable day-to-day. I’m so fortunate to have the friends and family that I do. It’s a tight-knit community and the connections people have called on from the moment I got hurt until today has been awesome.

What was the experience like breaking your neck in a foreign country? That whole episode sounds pretty traumatic.

I don’t want to say it was a nightmare but it sort of was (laughs). I was so scared by the whole thing and so many factors were out of my control. I tried my best to stay calm and not worry about where I was or what life was going to look like. The WSL doctors came over the day it happened and said ‘You just need to breathe and stay relaxed until surgery’, which is what I did. I did nothing for three days. I was too afraid to ask questions because I was too scared to hear the answers. At that point I completely forgot about surfing, all I cared about was whether I was going to be able to move again and enjoy life to the bare minimum. 

Are you thinking about competing again or is that off the table for now?

Absolutely. I want to go back and compete, it’s what I love and I want to be on tour with my brother. It’s been amazing watching him accomplish his goals and I’d love to be there with him, but at the same time I’ve got to make sure I get to that level and qualify, and that’s a whole other beast in itself. Watching Seth this season at Pipe was inspiring, watching him surf against Kelly in the final was surreal. This season is the first time I’ve seen Seth really go for it. He is so hungry and he’s training on another level. If you want to be in the top 5 you’ve got to shift into a different gear and I’ve definitely seen that in him this year. 

Glad to hear Josh. Sounds like you’re in a good place.

You can follow Josh’s journey here.

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