CHAD Whatley counts himself lucky, really lucky.
Two years ago he had recently returned from an overseas surfing trip to Hawaii and Mexico where it wasn’t uncommon to take on waves measuring 10 feet and above.
He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time at Flynns Beach where he came off his board in a three-foot swell.
The end result could have been catastrophic as he tried to get in a quick surf in between jobs as a crane driver.
“I had a surf without a wetsuit, didn’t stretch and it was a fast, shallow beach break,” he said.
“I got projected forward, hit my head on the sand bank and fractured my neck. That’s how easily it happened. It was scary stuff.”
Whatley originally thought it was just twinge in his shoulder, so he returned the board to his mate and walked back up the beach and tried to stretch it out.
Forty-eight hours later he was lying in a hospital bed in agony.
“It was a stable fracture in the C7 vertebrae right next to the spinal column,” he said.
Whatley admitted doctors told him that if it was an unstable fracture he would have been in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“We’re talking millimetres so it was a pretty close call,” he said.
“Whether I’m surfing or swimming at the beach, I’m happy just to be walking.”
Whether I’m surfing or swimming at the beach, I’m happy just to be walking.
Whatley returns to this weekend’s Bird Rock Surf Classic for a second shot at the title after his debut appearance 12 months ago.
The Classic has special meaning for the Port Macquarie surfer whose father Terry passed away five years ago.
Last year Mr Whatley’s name was added to the memorial which overlooks Town Beach and was the work of Whatley’s aunty Cheryl who made it happen.
“She’s Matty Banting’s mum obviously and it was really nice of her to do that for us,” Whatley said.
“It was just really random, she rang me up and told me one day. I was stoked about it so thought I should surf in the competition last year and now I thought I should keep surfing in it.
“Dad was a pretty good surfer back in the 70s so it means a lot to us to have his name on the memorial.”
Whatley said Bird Rock was an event on the local surfing calendar that everyone marked in their diaries.
“It has been running for so long, so I think the local surfing community can get in touch with it,” he said.
“It means a lot to them because they’re very familiar with the names of the past and they can connect with that.”
The classic starts on Friday.