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No Leg? No Problem.

Post-shark attack, Colin Cook is revolutionising performance prosthetics – and living better than ever.

news // May 24, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

You’re kidding yourself if you say you haven’t done this before: 4:45am, and you promised yourself you’d dawn patrol. Each buzz from your phone alarm a stark reminder of that commitment.

But you just can’t get yourself to do it. You had one too many last night. It’s cold. The tide’s better in the middle of the day anyways. Whatever the excuse, it’s enough for you to silence your phone. The crowds will probably thin out as everyone goes to work anyways, right? “It’s onshore and shit,” the 10am the carpark report later confirms. 

Well, if there’s a story that puts an end to excuses, this is it. Meet Colin Cook. When Colin was 25, he was living the dream on the North Shore, building boards for John Carper, Pyzel, and more between surfing everyday. Island life was good for Colin… until one October morning in 2015. We won’t spoil anything, here it is from Colin himself:

“I was at this North Shore spot called Leftovers, about a mile west of Waimea Bay. It wasn’t known for being sharky – I actually lived just right down the street from there, and it never came off to me as some crazy sharky place. It was just kinda the spot across the street. One morning – October 9, 2015 – it was just a typical Hawaiian day, crystal clear. I went surfing around 8:30, and I got attacked around 10.

IMG 0195 Shark

“For the first couple of seconds I thought maybe somebody jumped on me. But I opened my eyes underwater and everything was red, I remember seeing the sharks face on my leg, and it just started to rag doll me. It was pulling me under and I was fighting it as much as I could, I managed to punch it right in the nose, which helped me swim free. I got to the surface and thought, ‘Wow, I made that, I’m fine.’ Then I got on my board and looked back and my leg was gone.

“It was pretty gruesome, as the shark took my leg above the knee. Chomped it off clean cut. And the shark had my leg in its mouth while I was bear-hugging my board, the leash still connected to that leg. So my leash was on the leg that was in the sharks mouth and the shark was towing me around on the board.

“I started screaming for help and a guy, who’s the real hero — his name’s Keoni, and was my neighbour — paddled over to me and told me to hold on. Keoni started pushing the shark off with his paddle, but I was going downhill really quick. He got me on his back and paddled all the way to shore, the shark following us all the way in.

IMG 0294 edit

“I spent a week in the Queens Hospital in Honolulu, and from literally day one I was researching prosthetics in surfing. That was one hundred per cent my goal, to get back on a board. I knew I needed time to heal and be able to learn how to walk and figure out everything, though.

“Obviously I knew nothing about prosthetics at the time. People had been working with the older style prosthetic which fit into the socket, and I found out you can have a million dollar prosthetic, but if your socket doesn’t fit correctly and doesn’t work with your residual limb it’s not going to be comfortable — the first six months I couldn’t even stand it was so painful.

“So for the next three months after I was contacting anyone and everyone I could — other amputees, prosthetics companies — trying to find an above-the-knee surfing prosthetic. And unfortunately, after all that researching, I found out there was nothing. There’s only like four other people in the world, well three with me being the fourth, that are standing on a board with above knee prosthetics, and they’re literally just using metal rods. So I was just like, ’This can’t be it.’

“But I remembered my background in composite manufacturing and carbon fibre and have a lot of buddies who are engineers. So we kinda got this idea like, ‘Let’s try to make a leg.’ In the beginning, we had no idea what to go off of, because there was nothing like it. I had an idea of the concept and we just started rolling with it and next thing we knew, we had this prototype.

IMG 0802 Edit

“The idea essentially was making a blade in a fixed bent position that’s engineered in the right way so that it can be under me and flex, all without a true joint. We started testing it after building it for two months, and once I finally surfed it I got up on the third wave I was like, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ Then it was uphill from there on out.

“After six months back on a board I competed at the ISA Adaptive World Championship, where I got fourth in the world. It was really eye-opening. Then there were the discussions of surfing going into the Paralympics and suddenly I had this new motive in life around adaptive surfing. It’s an incredible time to be a part of it all and watch people push themselves, and it’s something I really like to do and be a part of.

“In fact, I just got back from the Hawaii Championship, where I got first. Actually, this most recent trip to Hawaii was the first time I surfed Leftovers since the accident. And I surfed it with the guy who saved me, it was really incredible. For some reason I didn’t have really bad PTSD and I wasn’t scared about getting back into the water. But when I was back there surfing for the first time, I felt a weight lift off me. And I had the time of my life.

“My surfing’s improved so much and now I’m just trying to work on working with different legs and different boards. I have this newfound love, and want to help anyone in anyway in similar situations. I won’t take no for an answer.”

IMG 0643 Edit

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