Stab Magazine | Near-Tragedy: Eli Olson And Company Save A Bodyboarder At Skeleton Bay

Near-Tragedy: Eli Olson And Company Save A Bodyboarder At Skeleton Bay

“He had blood pouring over his face. After I rolled him over I found he was conscious but at that point, paralysed.”

Words by Words and

Earlier today, South African photographer, Alan van Gysen was at Skeleton Bay, Namibia where a bodyboarder almost drowned. “I literally just came tearing into the hotel from the frigid, pitch-black beach,” he tells Stab following his recount of the near-tragedy. “What a long day, and oh so cold!” We will let AVG report the details from here:

“It was inevitable”, says a local surfer just behind the growing crowd of concerned and helpful surfers. Not meant to be malicious or uncaring, but at a wave this heavy and long, with so many flocking towards the tube of their dreams, it’s surprising there haven’t been more incidents like this. 

Moments before, shrouded in its characteristically eerie fog, Donkey Bay aka Skeleton Bay was picture perfect, 4-5ft and flawless. It had all the makings of an epic day. The excitement and froth from the many surfers who’d flown in for the swell was palpable. Every free-surfing pro and QS warrior – who ditched the Jordy Smith QS Pro in Cape Town – were preparing to get the waves of their life-with and without GoPro’s strapped to their face. Then the whistles and shouts for help started…

Namibia AlanvanGysen 0667

On the outside, Skeleton Bay reels picture-perfect through the fog. On the inside, bodyboarder, Stefan Dryer, lays stabilised by the sand. This photo, if nothing else, is conflicting.

Bobbing millimetres above the surface in the impact zone was a body, motionless and unresponsive at first. Paddling frantically in aid was Hawaiian Eli Olsen who had seen the bodyboarder go down. “I saw this bodyboarder go down hard on a set wave,” said Eli. “He was getting a solid barrel, really deep but then it ran away from him. It was really gnarly and shallow this morning too which was scary. For some reason, I’ve been a part of a lot of surf injuries over the years so luckily I caught sight of this guy laying face down in the impact zone while everyone else was looking out to sea for the next set. I paddled up to him real quick. He had blood pouring over his face, but fortunately, after I rolled him over I found he was conscious but at that point, paralysed. Thinking this was most definitely a neck injury I swung around behind him and put him into a C-spine position supporting his head and neck with my hands and arms through his shoulders. I yelled for my friend Josh Moniz and Matt Bromley and together with a few other surfers we slowly got him to the beach. Unfortunately, because the current is so gnarly we struggled a bit and got dragged down about 100 yards. Once we got him to the beach we laid him down real slow and built up the sand around his neck and head as a support/neck brace.”

Namibia AlanvanGysen 0674

“He squeezed my hand and has sensation and movement in his lower appendages which is a good sign,” says Callum.

Thankfully, it happened mid-point directly in front of most of the cars and surfers, and not a kilometre down at the end of the point. Travelling UK surfer and ER doctor Callum Swift had driven right through Africa with his brother from London and were on the scene moments after Eli had stabilised the bodyboarder, a South African from Cape Town named Stefan Dryer. It was his first session ever here. Callum reassuringly spoke through the basic trauma check with his friends and those taking care of him. “He’s got a head injury with a possible neck injury,” he said. “We’ve made sure he is immobilised and his airway is clear and open, which is fine obviously as he is talking to us clearly. He has good strength in his hand when I did the neurological assessment of his central nervous system – eye movement and sensation of the face etc, and then his peripheral nervous system. He squeezed my hand and has sensation and movement in his lower appendages which is a good sign. It’s tough to do a full examination while he is in a wetsuit on the cold sand, but the EMT guys en route will be able to do that more comprehensibly at the hospital.”

Namibia AlanvanGysen 0634

“Once we got him to the beach we laid him down real slow and built up the sand around his neck and head as a support/neck brace,” says Eli.

Within 30-mins of the accident, and with the fast and efficient help of local Shaun Loubser, the medical response team was guided out to the strip and had Stefan wrapped in a space blanket and safely transferred to the vehicle on a stretcher. A big thanks to all the surfers who came to his aid and who kept him warm with their jackets, towels and good company.

Stefan was taken to the local hospital. After all the scans and x-rays he has officially broken his neck, inches from permanent paralysis but should regain full movement if he heals okay. He is being airlifted back to South Africa tomorrow.

After the accident, the ocean literally flipped a switch and the waves stopped. A sign of respect? Maybe. But everyone out here took a moment to think about the dangers while the tide turned and waves began to fill back in. As the locals like to say out here, “Watch out, The Donkey kicks.”

Namibia AlanvanGysen 0750

Thanks to a swift response and the gentlemen of Donkey Bay looking after each other, Stefan is doing as well as the situation permits.


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