A bodyboarder bit off more than he could chew and has been left with a burst lung after he was catapulted high into the air by a freak wave.
Surfer Craig Stroh captured the moment professional body boarder mate Jack Baker was wiped out by a wave as he watched from the shore in Cronulla, Sydney last Monday.
Baker, who was riding a small 4ft wave, lost a litre of blood and was rushed to hospital when he was launched 20ft high and 40ft forwards by the impact of a second ‘backwash’ wave hitting him.
Stroh, 42, said he feared the 22-year-old was dead when he witnessed the dramatic moment he was flung back down to the water – hitting the sea at what could have been up to 16mph.
Cronulla man Baker said he knew the impact the waves could have.
“I had been getting a bit antsy that day because the waves were blowing – I even said to the photographer who was in the water with me ‘this backwash is going to kill someone’.
“As this wave came towards me I took off and as I got in it was real deep, I was already going too fast, I attempted to eject hoping it would send me back through the wave.
“The wave was 4ft and the backwash was only 4ft too but the impact between the two refracted the energy and I was caught between the two."
“Instead of ejecting I got smashed through the wave and suddenly I was in the air just falling down. I had already got kicked about so hard in the waves so as I came back down I was dizzy and I didn’t know whether I was in the water or in the air. But when I hit the water that woke me up.
“I felt like I had loads of sea water in my mouth and throat that I was coughing up but then I realised it was all this blood. My heart sank, I tried to control my breathing and get myself out of the water and as I got onto the rocks everyone came running straight over to me."
Baker said he feared for his life when he kept coughing up blood.
“Every 10 seconds I was coughing up so much blood and I was short of breath. I was really scared I was going to die," he said.
“The doctors at the hospital couldn’t believe what had happened. They couldn’t comprehend how I’d fallen from 20ft when the waves were only 4ft deep."
“People do get absolutely destroyed by backwash but I don’t know of anyone being launched this high.”
Baker, who has been body boarding for 12 years, was in the water at about 10am on Monday when the freak wave launched him skywards.
In Stroh's video, the backwash wave – which runs in the opposite direction to normal – can be seen smashing into the crest Jack is paddling on.
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The footage shows the powerful impact throw Baker from his board and send him flying helplessly through the air before plummeting back into the sea.
The force burst his left lung and caused a pneumothorax, where a pocket of air is trapped between the chest cavity and ribs, and internal bruising to his lungs and muscles.
The 22-year-old also lost a litre of blood and was rushed to hospital where he spent one night in a respiratory trauma ward before being discharged the next day.
He has now been told not to surf or body board for the next four weeks but said the painful experience had not put him off his favourite sport.
“Where I was body boarding is not an easy place to get out of the water from because you have to climb straight up the rock face," Baker said.
“As I came out I thought to myself ‘if God loves me he will put me up there’ and I just washed straight up.
“I have been badly battered by waves before, but never to the point where I have had to take myself to hospital.
“I still love it and it won’t stop me from getting back out there – it hasn’t put me off and it will be the first place I’ll be back in the water.
Stroh, who was filming surfers at the time, said: “As soon as I saw it I thought it was pretty bad, it was the worst I have ever seen. I thought ‘I think he might be dead’."
“I had never seen anything like that before.
“Luckily then I saw him surface but he came straight in so I knew something was wrong. As he came up on the rocks the wave nearly got him again.”