- Scroll down to read an excerpt from Beyond The Break
Darren Longbottom believes everyone has a story, and he’s now ready to tell his.
After 10 years, the owner of Kiama’s Zink Surf has finally decided to tell the world of his harrowing ordeal that took the use of his legs.
The 46-year-old’s new book, Beyond the Break, has hit book stores this week. It is a story of tragedy and resilience.
“I was at an apex in my life, everything was running smoothly,” Longbottom told the Mercury. “Then with a click of fingers everything just changed 180 degrees.”
He said as time ticked on he started to think writing a book would help his daughter Bowie, 11, to fully understand fully what happened to her dad.
Longbottom and his brother Dylan were spoilt for choice growing up surfing on the shores of Cronulla before their family moved south to Dapto. However the distance to the ocean didn’t deter them and it wasn’t long until they found many other “Daptoids” shared a love for the sea.
Years later Dylan went on the road as a “free surfer” while Daz pursued a career in the surf industry, learning every aspect of the trade.
“As the ‘90s ticked past into a new century and the young Aussies of the ‘70s settled into early middle age, almost all of them found a way to keep the adventure rolling with a trip to the island chains off western Sumatra, Indonesia,” wrote Nick Carroll in the book’s forward.
“Longbottom found himself at this spot in May 2008. Right there, in a surf zone generally regarded by the core of the surf community as a kind of Heaven … it’s also a place of serious risk.”
A freak accident 14 hours from civilisation, a jaunt in an unregistered helicopter with a cowboy pilot, an emergency landing in the jungle with fears of cannibalism, then a white-knuckle ride in a makeshift ambulance were only the beginning of the tale.
For a long time, Longbottom said, he pushed aside friends and family urging him to put his story on paper. Instead he opted to focus on moving forward and learning to live again after the incident.
After befriending writer and fellow Arsenal Football Club fan Tim Rushby-Smith – who is also without the use of his legs – they decided to work together to retell what happened.
“It was quite interesting for me to take the time and acknowledge what I did go through,” Longbottom said of the writing process. “It was also good to actually join some dots, things that I never knew happened.”
After moving to Gerringong from the UK, Rushby-Smith found comfort in knowing Daz was close by – a bit of “peer to peer support” in a new country.
“There is a sort of unspoken, shared experience,” he said. “There’s a whole load of stuff you don’t have to go through the process to explain or if you’re having a bad day they know what a bad day is in spinal terms.”
Rushby-Smith said it was great to chat to someone about things like the Australian health system or complaining about navigating the many hills around Kiama and Gerringong.
He also said the 18-month writing process became a little emotional as it made himself revisit his own journey.
“It was an interesting experience hearing someone else [discuss] how they handled it or reflected on it,” Rushby-Smith.
In 2005, the former tree-surgeon feel out of a tree and damaged his T12 vertebra, making him a paraplegic. Longbottom broke his C5 and C6 vertebrae and suffered much worse damage to his spinal chord.
“My rescue was fairly short by comparison but I only had one injury and no other health complications and it was instant and permanent,” Rushby-Smith said, who wrote his own book in 2008.
For readers, Longbottom hopes they take away a sense of how precious life is but at the same time to keep “pushing through” when life’s journey takes a dip.
“Anything can happen at any moment,” he said. “But you’ve got to keep breaking down barriers that are put in front of you. We all just need to look forward and keep going.”
Riding a surfboard may be out of the question but there are still many things Longbottom can do that initially he thought impossible – like driving, swimming and “playing around” in the ocean on prone paddle boards.
“Everyone has a story, this is just mine,” he said.
Beyond the Break is in book stores now through Penguin Random House Publishing.
Darren Longbottom will be having a book signing at Zink Surf in Kiama on August 10 at 7pm.
BEYOND THE BREAK
- An excerpt from the new book
Another thread of thought enters my head: Well, the helicopter’s still here, so he’s got to come back. But then he just might not come back for a while, and these guys might sort me out. Then he can just take his helicopter and be on his way. He’s in an isolated place; he can get away from everyone.
I feel like I’m still hallucinating, because I’m forever staring up and not really wanting to close my eyes. But as the reality of the situation comes over me in waves, I have to close my eyes for parts of it. I use the one-to-ten method that I normally turn to if a situation threatens to get the best of me. I simply take a step back and count to ten while breathing slowly; it’s a trigger that calms me down and lets my senses re-engage.
Everything is black – there are no lights around. My hands and arms are tied. The wide eyes surrounding me are filled with shock, just as much shock as I’m feeling.
I try to wrestle control back, to not freak out – It’s a broken neck.
I didn’t die. I can be fixed up. Everything will start working again.
Getting out of here, staying alive – that has to be the focus.
The muttering of the crowd around me continues, what feels like a thousand conversations. I’m still trying to pick out key words – whether it’s ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘safe’, ‘home’, anything like that – my mind attempting to process every single sound in the hope that I can make out some sort of dialogue. My brain is going a hundred miles an hour. I’m cursing myself for not spending enough time learning the language on my countless trips to this part of the world. But one big thought keeps coming back: They’re going to take me away and cook me!
I can sense from the tightening crowd that something is going on . . . and then I feel myself moving. I realise people are touching me, rubbing me, tugging me around my legs and feet, somewhere down where I can’t see . . . My feet and legs are laying off my board and in the dirt. It’s so peculiar that while I can feel no touch, I can still sense my lower limbs are moving because my upper body is moving with them. I also have weird sensations shooting through my body, as if someone turned up the temperature in my blood, then it disappears again.
I try to scream, ‘Don’t touch me!’ I’m freaking out now for a couple of reasons. One: I know I’m paralysed and shouldn’t be moved at all. Two: I don’t want this mass of complete strangers touching me. I try again to escape to that special place in my mind, but it’s not working – there’s just too much stuff happening that’s not making sense. Before there was more muttering and quiet discussion, so I could take myself away, but now that I know I’m being moved, panic overpowers my mind.
Then I start to hear something different from the normal voices I’ve been trying to decipher. It begins with two or three people, and it seems to be growing louder. It sounds like singing . . . Then I realise it’s more like chanting. My thoughts run straight back to that image of the cauldron in the cartoons. What else could it be? F***, this is it – I’m gone! I’ve always believed that two of humanity’s greatest fears are being paralysed and being eaten alive, and it looks like I’m going to have both dealt to me inside of a day.