Image: Mark Morgan

Surf photographer Mark Morgan talks about two dangerous situations he has encountered while on the job.

 

I love the ocean. 

But it almost killed me twice. 

 

Image: Mark Morgan

Being in the ocean or even being near the ocean feels good for my soul. It’s fun and relaxing – it just feels right. Even though I live a five-minute walk from the beach, I find it hard to book a holiday or get away from the ocean for even a weekend. 

So it’s strange to think that the two closest times I’ve come to death have been in the ocean. 

Both times have been in pursuit of images. 

Image: Mark Morgan

Pain in the neck 

The first time was a freak accident. The waves were small and I was only standing in waist-deep water at Queenscliff beach. I was trying to capture a surfer on a wave, but as he carved off a wave in front of me, the surfboard fin caught my neck. 

An artery was severed. 

I was lucky that the wetsuit I had on was tight around my neck, and it managed to keep the bleeding to a minimum. I was rushed to the local Manly Hospital, where the first doctor that treated me asked me to tilt my neck. 

As I did, a massive spray of blood covered him and the rest of the room. It was like the puncture was waiting for the right time to show itself. 

I’ll never forget his next words; “Nurse! We need an ambulance now!” Not exactly what you want to hear, especially when you’re in a hospital. The doctor didn’t leave my side once or release the pressure on my neck until I was transported from Manly to Royal Northshore Hospital in an ambulance. There, I received emergency surgery to repair the artery that had been cut. 

The second time was not a freak accident – I was just careless. 

Image: Mark Morgan

Image: Mark Morgan

Big swim and the Disco 

Big wave surfer Ross Clark-Jones once said that in times of panic in the ocean, he thinks of the disco. The rhythms of the dance floor, the release of stress, the colourful lights, and thumping music – this analogy saved my life. 

One of my favourite things is swimming and shooting in the waves, which put me out of my comfort zone. There is nothing quite like bopping around in the ocean with a bunch of surfers, experiencing the thrill of massive waves bearing down on you. Though it can be unpredictable and scary at times, it’s also exhilarating. Within surfers, there is a sense of community and exhilaration that pulls you to cheer and holler when you see someone get a good ride – especially if it’s a barrel. Experienced surfers are careful and know what they’re doing despite the fear and danger, but if I tried to ride any waves I see them going for, I would be out of the business for life. 

Image: Mark Morgan

Though I usually head to the Northern Beaches to surf, one day, I had the opportunity to go to Shark Island in Cronulla. A long-time dream of mine and the stars aligned to provide my friend Nick and me with 14-foot waves. To say we were excited is an understatement. 

Once I got to the beach I realised I had left my fin savers back home, but I didn’t think much of it. It had been a long time since a wave had taken my fins off, so I thought I would be safe – famous last words, huh? 

One hundred metres out from the beach on our way to the point, massive waves started bearing down on us. As the first wave broke, I took a slow dive below. I was too slow, and the wave smashed down onto my fins and ripped them from my feet. It was a horrible feeling. I swim with fins 99% of the time, and it was as if my legs were gone. My kicks had no power, I was holding on to my heavy camera in one arm, and trying to swim with the other. 

As I came up for air, the next wave hit me. I tumbled and turned, losing sight of Nick and being washed down the beach. I was afraid of being pulled out to sea on an outgoing rip. I was no longer in control of my destination. I was beginning to panic. 

Wave after wave broke on my head. I was being tossed about like a leaf, and I kept drinking water as I attempted to keep my head above the water. This was when I thought about what Ross Clark-Jones had advised. 

Image: Mark Morgan

I pictured myself in a nightclub moving on the dance floor. I could hear the music and see the coloured lights. I swear it saved my life because it stopped my mind from panicking. Thoughts of my children and family kept popping into my head, but I kept pushing them out with the imagined sound of music. 

I kept wondering when the right time would be to let go of my camera and focus on saving my life. I managed to get pushed to the rocks and ocean pool, where my feet touched the ground. It was a huge relief, but the struggle wasn’t over. I now had to be careful not to get smashed against the rocks. One large wave could end it all. 

I could see a group of people helplessly watching me. It was comforting to know that someone out there knew where I was. From the corner of my eye, I saw two lifeguards running along the walkway towards me, but if I were dragged out to sea again, they wouldn’t be able to do much to help. 

I fought against the water, slowly pulling myself to the edge of a sea wall, where I could have some grip protection from the waves. The waves were wild, but I eventually made it to safety, where Nick and the lifeguards checked to see if I was okay. I laid on the ground with my eyes closed, exhausted and relieved. 

I tried to get up, but my legs were jelly, and I could barely walk. I wonder how much longer I could have fought for my life. 

This experience gave me a big wake-up call. Never rush. Always ensure you have the right equipment and it’s never a bad time for a disco. 

About the photographer

Mark Morgan is a self-taught photographer based in Sydney Australia. Specializing in surf, swimwear, underwater and lifestyle themes. 

When I’m not taking photos, you’ll find me with my family, with my dog and probably not far from a surf beach.

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