Bruno clung on tight as his friends piggy-backed his half paralyzed body down to the beach. They helped him onto a surfboard and cheered him on. Little did they know he wasn’t planning on returning. When he was far enough away from the shore, he disconnected the leash attached to board and rolled into the water…
Bruno Hansen: Soul Surfing Survivalist
I was 10 foot tall, I could do anything. I used to run every morning, and I used to free dive. I used to be as physical as often as I could.
Years before, at the age of 27, Bruno was living ‘the life’. Sunny beaches, board shorts, pretty girls, he had it all.
“I was 10 foot tall, I could do anything. I used to run every morning, and I used to free dive. I used to be as physical as often as I could.”
Driving through Cape Town one day Bruno was the victim of a brutal carjacking attempt. The car he was in careened down a bank and caught on fire. His assailants didn’t stop. They ripped his limp body free of the wreckage and gave him a severe beating. They stole $40 from his pocket and left him lying there paralyzed from the waist down.
All through his rehabilitation, Bruno tried desperately to be brave. But once he left the hospital, reality hit him hard.
“Getting turned away from cinemas because I was deemed a fire hazard, not being able to go into banks… It started affecting me, and I started thinking that there’s no way that I could go back to living the life that I had before, in the wilds of the planet.”
He was in a dark, dark place, engulfed by a deep sadness as he realised he wouldn’t be able to “Go for a hike in the hills, climb a tree, or go for a run along the beach with a pretty girl.”
So he threw himself into the water. But he didn’t sink.
“I bobbed around like a cork getting angrier that I couldn’t actually drown myself. I climbed back on the board and got hit by a small foamy.”
In the end, he rode that small wave back to the beach, and ironically this saved Bruno’s life. IT somehow rebooted his system.
“It was less than 10 seconds but something happened to me and I don’t actually know what it is, but it gave me a zest for life and a need to enjoy life at that moment in time.”
So he started surfing again, going out with his old buddies. In the pitch darkness, before first light, Bruno would crawl over the rocks, booties on, to get to the water. His mates would throw in his board, and he would launch himself, swimming as fast as he could to reach it. Once he was on, it was a matter of paddling hard to get past the break. Otherwise he would’ve been washed back up on the rocks.
“I never knew what wasn’t possible.”
He had rediscovered a sense of purpose and seen that it was possible to get back into the wilderness he loved so much. Now he feels like he has his life together. But it took a long time to get to this place.
“I still have that dark angel that sits on the one shoulder and that angel of power and light on the other shoulder. And there are times when I slip into a depressive state.”
It can come on at any time, when he’s in California, preparing for the surfing championships, with good friends, in a beautiful house. But now Bruno understands the darkness and can see it coming. When the darkness threatens, he puts the brakes on, takes stock of things and stays away from alcohol. Most of all he calls on his past to help him with the present, looking back on all the things he has accomplished in the last 20 years.
It was less than 10 seconds but something happened to me and I don't actually know what it is, but it gave me a zest for life and a need to enjoy life at that moment in time.
“Surviving the tsunami, crossing the Indian Ocean, surviving Somali piracy, looking for treasures, meeting famous actors, hanging out with amazing, wealthy people and leaving that glamor and going to sleep in a car that no one knows about for the night.”
For a long time he thought he was the only paralysed person who was surfing. Then, in 2015 he discovered the Adaptive Surfing World Championships in San Diego, California. He jokingly told his cousins he would win “that thing.”
He arrived in San Diego without even a surfboard. His fellow competitors looked professional, and slightly intimidating. They had support crews of 20 people, made up of massage therapists, waveologists and copious sponsors.
In spite of the odds, Bruno bought himself a 25 year old “ugly as hell” Californian surfboard and surfed his way to become the 2015 World Champion.
“I learned something quite amazing – that we can still accomplish great things with minimal resources.”
That teaching has inspired him in so many ways. A frequent traveller, he found he would pack more medical supplies for a trip than essentials like clothes, and surfing equipment. He was also disturbed by the amount of plastic he would get through on a daily basis, as a user of intermittent catheters. So he downsized by sterilising his catheters after use. He now goes through 12 catheters a year instead of four to six a day.
Living life in the wild and travelling on a shoestring budget also meant Bruno wasn’t prepared to fork out big bucks for a wheelchair. He made his own out of stainless steel and with a yoga mat as a cushion.
If you want to have a go at living the life of Bruno Hansen, you will soon be able to attend Bruno Bootcamp. Over the last three years, Bruno has been in Panama with his cousin Chris, putting together an entirely self-funded centre for people in wheelchairs.
At night, they will be comfortable and safe, able to watch movies, in a building with mosquito nets and air conditioning. But in the day time is when the real challenges begin.
“You know where there is no time for PTSD because you’re too busy crawling over the hot sand, too busy fixing that small cut you’ve got on the leg because you went 11 kilometres flying down the sand on a quad bike. “
Something Bruno always falls back upon is the realisation that life is an incredible adventure, and it is our duty as people to have fun with it.
“This enables one to go out into the world and take chances and by taking chances in the world and by surviving these chances, it empowers us.”
He urges people, most of all, to spend as much time as they can in nature, wherever possible.
News just in while writing this, Bruno has won his 4th world adaptive surfing title. He is unstoppable!
For anyone wanting to get into adaptive surfing, Bruno advises looking up the Challenged Athletes Foundation, an organisation that helps people with disabilities participate in their chosen sport.