SATELLITE BEACH – Treading water amid rolling 4- to 5-foot waves, Storm Portman prepared to hop back atop her surfboard offshore from Pelican Beach Park.
However, her surfboard leash got tangled around her foot, and the nose of the board was pointed toward her head. When she turned her body, the board shot forward — and rammed into her left eye.
Portman never even saw it coming.
"It happened really fast. I covered my eye, but my eye wasn't really in the right place. I kept my hand over my eye so it wouldn't fall out," she recalled.
Portman, 14, the reigning Eastern Surfing Association girls champion, suffered a "globe rupture" of her eyeball. She was dizzy and vomiting by the time she underwent emergency surgery at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.
Now, doctors do not know if they can save her lacerated eye after the Jan. 15 accident. Portman underwent a second surgery Monday at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, and she returns Wednesday for a follow-up exam.
"They will tell us where we go from there," said her mother, Toye Hall.
Portman is an Indialantic homeschooled freshman who dreams of touring the globe as a World Surf League professional. She won the girls title (age 14 and under) at the ESA Eastern Surfing Championships in September in Nags Head, North Carolina.
Portman wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to do schoolwork so she can hit the waves by 7. She trains at Pelican Beach Park with her coach, East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame inductee John Holeman, and Toye Hall's fiance, Daryl Dixon.
"She surfs at least five hours a day Monday through Friday. On weekends, she'll go out there from sunrise till sunset. Salt water flows through her veins," Hall said.
Holeman previously worked with Indialantic pro Nikki Viesins, who traveled the world on the junior circuit.
"Storm's only been doing this two years, and she's almost caught up to Nikki Viesins. The talent this girl has is absolutely amazing," Holeman said.
"It takes more than talent: She listens. She listens to instruction. She applies what her coach and trainers tell her to do. That's critical. So she's a real good student. She works her butt off out there," he said.
In November, Portman finished second in the Womens Pro division at the Tommy Tant Memorial Surf Classic in Flagler Beach. Viesins won first place.
Hall works as a bartender Baroos Beachside Bar in Indialantic. She has health insurance, but she has not been billed yet for her daughter's surgeries. As of Thursday afternoon, an online crowdfunding campaign had generated more than $9,000 for Portman's uninsured expenses.
"I had a customer come in, wouldn't leave a name or anything, who left $1,000. The community ... Storm's a really good person. So we're not really worried," Hall said, breaking down in tears.
This was not Portman's first surfing mishap. In September 2013, a shark bit her in the left foot in waist-deep water in New Smyrna Beach. She resumed surfing a month later after her foot healed.
Thursday, Portman wore a plastic protective cover over her injured eye, which is sensitive to light. She has to apply five different types of eyedrops every three to four hours, and a doctor told her she cannot surf for at least another two months.
"When you surf every day, you get into this routine. Once you get thrown off that, you get tired and grumpy," Portman said.
"Surfing takes over your life, and when you can't do it you just feel like a different person."
Contact Neale at 321-242-3638, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @RickNeale1 on Twitter.
Benefit surf contest
The Eye of the Storm Surf Contest takes place Feb. 21 at the north end of Paradise Beach Park in beachside Melbourne.
Proceeds from the pro-am event will benefit Storm Portman's family.
A crowdfunding benefit drive is also underway. Visit giveforward.com and search for Storm Portman.