Australia’s Jade Wheatley is anything but your average surfer. For starters, he doesn’t have any legs. 16 years ago, Jade, known as “Red Dog” by his friends, endured a terrible accident. A runaway steam-roller pinned him to the ground, completely crushing his lower body, ultimately forcing doctors to amputate both of his legs. Jade was convinced he would never surf again.
Follow the traumatic accident, the 36-year-old man from Newcastle fell into a “dark place,” as anyone would after having your world turned upside down. Fortunately, Wheatley was able to crawl out of that hole, but it wouldn’t have been possible without one thing: surfing and his unyielding love of the ocean.
“I spent two and a half years trying to get my legs working before I asked them to amputate,” Jade told the Daily Telegraph. “It was a bloody tough thing to rationalize and you go into a dark place, but surfing pulled me out of it.”
Photo: Braden Fastier
Although his love for the ocean helped him persevere in the face of adversity, Wheatley explained that adapting to his new condition wasn’t easy. But in the end, it was worth it.
“I couldn’t drive a car, so when I was out of hospital I wheeled myself 4km to my local break, The Cliff, every day. I locked my wheelchair at the top of the stairs and sort of just rolled down on to the sand with a boogie board. I would be out there for six to eight hours every day. It made me whole again.”
Day after day, Wheatley wheeled himself to the beach with his chin up. He was persistent and refused to let his injury consume him, like it had done once before. Soon he switched to a shortboard and quickly became one of Australia’s most talented adaptive surfers.
Wheatley ripping again. Photo: Braden Fastier
Thankful for what the healing properties the ocean and surfing provided, Wheatley was inspired to give back. He is currently raising awareness for funding to create a World Adaptive Surfing Championships, which takes place every year, but no circuit exists in Australia. Using a pair of mechanical legs, Wheatley spend 11 days walking over 100 miles from Newcastle to Manly in order to raise funds to set up a circuit in Australia.
“I know surfing can help other people who are going through what I have gone through, and right now we are just looking for some awareness to make this a reality,” he said. “Other countries have competitions which you can compete at but it costs a lot of money to get there. We want to give people in these situations another outlet.”