Big thrills, wipeouts, dangerous spills: Local nonprofits provide treatment options for surfers who suffer brain injuries


A surfer is thrown from a Mavericks wave during one of this winter’s epic swells. Many surfers suffer brain injuries during the wipeouts, but few seek treatment, which is can lead to long-term side effects, local nonprofits say.

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz surf photographer Audrey Lambidakis has been aboard multiple boats this winter in an effort to capture fearless surfers attempting to tame the epic swells rolling through Mavericks, a heralded big-wave surf break off the coast of Half Moon Bay.

And while she has seen some headline-making successes — she captured images that went viral of Peter Mel getting barreled “in the wave of his life” on Jan. 8 — she has also witnessed plenty of body-jarring bails. She has captured images of surfers getting chucked off the boards like rag dolls. They’re sent tumbling down the cascading face of the mountainous wave and smashed below the surface by a wall of water.

In surfing, there are no soft landings. Thrill seekers merely hope to limit the damage Mother Nature inflicts and escape with their lives.

If their limbs are moving, most surfers attempt to get back in the lineup. Others come aboard a nearby boat to gather their bearings.

Lambidakis isn’t a doctor, but she is there to offer help. In an effort to get athletes informed about medical treatments available and be pro-active in rehabilitating, Lambidakis recently used her stimulus package check to start a nonprofit: Healing BrainWaves Foundation.

“At Half Moon Bay, you see concussion after concussion after concussion,” Lambidakis said. “And the thing that’s scary, there are things they can be doing to treat their injuries, but they just don’t know.”

Lambidakis is also an intern at One Hit Away Foundation, a nonprofit based in Milbrae. While Lambidakis’ business helps athletes to locate resources available and post testimonials of their treatments, experience and rehabilitation, One Hit Away offers further guidance and even financial assistance. 

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