From Eight Months Stuck In Your Room To Eight Months Surf Guiding Through Indonesia - Stab Mag

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From Eight Months Stuck In Your Room To Eight Months Surf Guiding Through Indonesia

The yin/yang of a traumatic brain injury, with Samantha Sibley

cinema // Nov 14, 2023
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Head injuries and surfing are unfortunate acquaintances.

The list of professional surfers whose lives have been significantly altered by a bonk on the head is endless. And, it doesn’t even need to be a significant sized wave or wipeout for a severe brain injury to occur. Just ask Sterling Spencer — who suffered years of confusing, awful symptoms as a result of a nominal small-wave collision with his fin.

“I’ve seen guys throw up after an injury, I’ve seen them slur their words, I’ve seen them look dazed and confused,” Healing Brain Waves founder Audrey Labidakis told us for our guide to Brain Injury Preparation And Prevention. “You can experience that from a huge wipeout or a tiny little wave. The amount that your brain is hit doesn’t really determine how serious it’s going to be.”

In 2021, San Clemente 21-year old Samantha Sibley clipped the side of her head on a bit of Costa Rican reef. The CT hopeful then spent the next eight months more or less unable to leave her room.

The only room you want to be stuck in.

“My equilibrium was super off, and I had crazy nerve pain because of it,” she told me. “It was really gnarly. I didn’t surf, I couldn’t really leave my room because the light sensitivity was so bad. It was actually really depressing — the highlight of my days was going to physical therapy. I tried to surf a few times and it just really wasn’t right. It felt weird, I wasn’t having fun, it was crazy how hard it was. I was scared every time I paddled out. It would be three foot and I’d be anxious and full of fear.”

As she began to fully heal, the 2022 Challenger Series swung around the corner, and the pressure of accomplishment loomed.

“I’d only been cleared for a month before I went to Australia to do Snapper — because I didn’t want to lose my spot. I ended up getting extremely burnt out, probably because I never gave myself time to fully heal. My surfing got a lot worse over those 8 months and I never took the time to fix that.”

“That’s why I went to Indo, just to surf and remember why I love it. I spent 8 months just chasing surf guiding jobs. The whole experience completely changed me as a person. Now I just want to be happy, healthy, and get good waves. Before I had my head injury I was so focused on the QS, and now I’d say it’s completely shifted. I just want to get barreled. It would be cool to get on the CT, but it’s not the biggest thing on my mind. I just want to get good at surfing. If I find that fire again that makes me want to win heats, that would be cool, but right now I’m pretty happy chasing waves and being where I’m at.”

Pointedly triumphant, the clip above is a reminder that on the other side of struggle and suffering, the ocean will always be waiting. Tap in for eight minutes of cathartic bliss, courtesy of some neatly negotiated foamballs.


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