Some days you hear stories that pull you up, slap you right in the face, and tell you not to be so pathetic. Bruno Hansen’s story is exactly like that.
For a while Bruno’s life was one that many of us, as surfers, would be envious of. He grew up on the beach in South Africa, surfing and spear-fishing every day. He met a girl and embarked on a world tour with her, ending up as the skipper of a surf charter boat in Indonesia. His life was idyllic, enviable, easy.
Then, in 1998 at the age of 27 years old, Bruno was caught up in a hijacking attempt in South Africa and involved in a car accident. His spine was broken, he was paralyzed from the waist down, and he would never walk again.
Bruno Hansen immediately decided to end his life. He planned to drown himself at the earliest opportunity. He paddled out on a flat day, allowed himself to slip off, and hoped to sink to the bottom.
What happened next is one of those stories that forces us to think a little more deeply about the world. I’m not a religious person, but I certainly feel like asking questions when I hear things like this.
Instead of sinking, Bruno was carried to the shore by a wave that he describes as “a little foamy, probably 20cm high.” In other words, a wave which, in accordance with basic laws of physics, had no right to carry him anywhere. Bruno says that he was “confused” as to what was happening but that “something rebooted” in his mind and gave him the strength to face up to his new life as a paraplegic.
Now, there are several ways a cynic might pick holes in this. Perhaps Bruno’s memories of the incident are hazy, embellished, or just told with a little poetic license, consciously or unconsciously. But perhaps they’re not. Perhaps this really is a story of the power of the human spirit which resides in all of us but few of us will ever access. Either way, I hardly think it matters. Because however Bruno ended up back on the shore that day, it’s the journey he has been on since that is truly remarkable.
Bruno Hansen got back in the water and learned to surf and dive again. He sailed from Mozambique to Thailand where he survived the tragic tsunami of December 2004, by himself, whilst moored on his boat. He became a World Champion surfer at the I.S.A. (International Surfing Association) World Adaptive Surfing Championships in September 2015. Currently, he is competing in a sailing race from Seattle to Alaska which involves a journey of 750 miles across some of the harshest and most unpredictable ocean conditions on the planet. Bruno is tackling this journey with two fellow paraplegic friends, in an unmodified yacht.
Bruno’s next challenge is to walk again. He aims to do this using a set of“Rewalk 6.0 Bionic Legs” – which admittedly sounds like something from the realms of science fiction. Unsurprisingly these bionic legs are incredibly expensive, and so Bruno’s friends have started a crowdfunding campaign on his behalf. They aim to raise £70,000 and are making great progress with £24,000 donated already in little over a week. I’ll admit to being skeptical by default when it comes to many crowdfunding campaigns, but I think I’d make an exception for this.
Regardless of whether you feel the need to donate, if you’re not inspired by the story then there’s probably no hope for you. First Bethany Hamilton putting on a display of world class surfing at Cloudbreak with only one arm, and now this. People like Bruno and Bethany are inspirational in a way that I could never do justice with mere words. I can re-tell their stories, sure, but there is something innately beautiful about them that is impossible to quantify or describe. We’re a crazy old species, us Homo Sapiens, and stories like this help to gloss over the historical fuck-ups and negative aspects of our species that so often bubble to the fore, if only for a short while.
“If God himself jumped down in front of me right now and said, Bruno, ‘I’ll give you back your legs, but I’ll take away all that you’ve learned in the last thirteen years,’ I’d tell God, ‘Keep your legs.'”
So the next time you’re “stressed” because you’ve lost your keys, had too many e-mails to deal with, or get stuck in traffic; think of Bethany, think of Bruno, and think of getting over it.