INTERVIEW: Outer Reef Jet Ski Launch “I Thought I was Paralysed”

Jason Lock

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Updated 800d ago

By now, you've seen the vid doing the rounds. A flotilla of skis was at an outer reef in Hawaii on Saturday as this colossal run of swell rifled into the islands. A giant, XL wave clouded the horizon and everyone scrambled to get out of its path. The first skis made it over, no problem, but the last few had to fully send it over a behemoth wave, launching 20, 30ft into the air – it was either that or face total decimation.

Manning one of the black skis going over the top in the vid (not the rogue white one at the end) was Cam Richards, who had photographer Ryan Moss on the back. When they saw this XL wave approach, Cam let rip, attempting to punch over the top. The ski rushed up the face of the wave and was shot-putted into the sky – crashing into the flats below – and that's where the real trouble started. The impact fractured Ryan's spine and left him thinking he was paralysed in the water.

Ryan and Cam, the last ski over the top.

Of course the rumour mill's been spinning, some claiming it was Ryan and Cam on the white ski, so MSW spoke with Ryan from his hospital bed in Honolulu to get the full account of what went down and the sequence of events in his own words.

Where are you currently and what's the diagnosis?
I'm at Queen's Trauma center in Honolulu and the diagnosis is a 50 per cent compression fracture of my L4. Also some other minor fractures in my spine and ribs but those are not serious.

Damn, that is heavy. Walk us through what happened – it looks like that set just caught everyone out.
Yeah, we were just doing little loops in order to get into position to shoot. The sled on the back of our ski was broken so we couldn’t really reverse or idle. The whole morning was absolutely beautiful and insane.

I had never seen waves like that ever on Oahu. I was mostly shooting stills and Cam [Richards] was doing an extraordinary job of putting me in the right places at the right time.

Then that set came and really caught everyone off guard. I hurried to put my camera away in my dry bag and then I told Cam to just “go”.

Wow, and what happened as Cam punched over the wave?
I just remember feeling weightless and it taking a really long time to come down. I didn’t know or realise how fast Cam sent us over the lip of that thing.

There was no handle on the ski, so I couldn’t stand up and hold on and hoped my legs would have absorbed some of the impact. So I was just sitting on the back with a death grip on the leather seat. Next thing I know I heard a loud thud and it felt like the ski buckled in half.

Along with that my back sent a shooting pain and tingling feeling from my waist down to my feet. I remember saying “fuck, fuck, fuck”, I’m paralysed. I legitimately thought I was.

The ski wasn’t starting and there was another wave behind the wave we just flew over. So I rolled off the jetski with my dry bag which had my cameras in them. I just remember telling myself, “I have to make it over this wave.” Luckily I did without getting sucked over but my dry bag with my camera gear didn’t.

Wow, that is so intense. Were you bothered about the camera or just wanted to get to safety? I ask because speaking to lensman in the past who got caught in horrible situations – their first concern is always the gear...
Honestly, I was concerned about both. I still couldn’t kick my legs and that gear is my life.

I was fortunate enough that Russo picked me up on the back of his sled and got me to Bryan Phillips who took me in to the North Shore lifegaurds.

There they were able to establish that I did have feeling and range of motion in my feet and legs. I think that was the biggest relief.

I was one of those guys who’s guilty of being more concerned about their gear than anything else. But, I’m 99 per cent positive if they went through this, they wouldn’t be.

And what happened next?
From there the ambulance came and got me and transported me to Waimea. I guess during the transport process my fiancé who was driving up with her sister, brother in law, and niece all saw me. My fiancé wasn’t sure it was me but her sister and brother in law were certain they saw me. They didn’t tell her, because they didn’t want to freak her out.

That must have been a difficult thing to see, and from there, on to hospital?
Yeah, I was transported to Queen's after five hours. I thought initially I was going to be able to go home. So I called my fiance to pick me up. I was incredibly wrong on that.

She’s been there for me through the whole process. Which is nice.

Had you seen the vid by then, the rumour mill went into meltdown...
Yeah, after I got to Queen's and came up with a game plan with their staff, the rumour mill started swirling on the North Shore about what had happened to me. The entire surf community over here has been insanely supportive. People just offering help or whatever help I may need.

Have you spoken to Cam?
Cam reached out to me and I think he’s alright. I’m not 100 per cent sure. In one of the videos you see him get sucked over the falls with the second ski. Cam if you’re reading this, I hope you’re all good and in good health.

Thankful for the legends that rescued you.
Yeah, thank you to Daniel Russo, the North Shore Lifeguards, all the Waimea and Queen's Medical staff, Shane Grace for trying to recover my memory card, thank you to the crew that found and took care of my dry bag. To the entire surf community and my friends, thank you for checking up on me. It means a lot. And thanks to Eddie Rothman and Da Hui for calling with their well wishes.

MSW has contacted Cam to check in on his status and we'll update once that's in. Ryan added he is now heading into surgery to repair the L4 50 per cent compression fracture. We wish both of them a speedy recovery.

Update: MSW's now been in contact with Cam, here's what he said: "Just to let it be known, we weren't on that white ski, but one of the black ones. Just really happy to hear Ryan is going to be okay! I did the best I could do to keep us safe during the chaos and things just went wrong. I feel terrible for Ryan but I know he is in good spirits and will be back stronger and better. There's also a gofundme link to help Ryan, HERE.