Paul D’Vorak is a WA local who sustained a broken neck in a freak accident, leaving him an incomplete quadriplegic with limited use of his hands. Once a talented and fearless surfer, Paul was forced to face a host of challenges and lifestyle changes. After making the difficult decision to return to the surf, Paul eventually contacted legendary shaper Al Bean to create a specially designed board. Despite the incredible risks, Paul has been using the board to get back into the big waves of Margaret River – a testament to the things you can achieve in the face of adversity.
How has your injury changed your life?
When you sustain a permanent spinal cord injury, everything changes. Obviously, losing the use of your legs takes a lot of adjusting to, but as a very independent person and tradesman, losing the use of my hands was the biggest challenge. Since my injury I’ve skydived, travelled to Spain, dived with White Pointers in South Australia and Whale Sharks in Exmouth, but the logistics are huge, so I definitely choose the seeds I water these days carefully.
When did you decide to start surfing again?
It was about 18 months ago I made the decision to surf again.
Was it a difficult decision?
It was a difficult decision. Two years after my injury, I gave away all my surfboards and threw my surfing trophies in the bin. It was very liberating and allowed me to move on with my new life. It wasn’t until I started working for Paraplegic Benefit Fund doing injury prevention talks to school kids that I made the decision to surf again. The talks can be emotionally draining and the kids often tear up, so I thought the footage of me surfing again after my injury would be a good way to finish the talks on a positive note and show the kids that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
What challenges did you face?
It took five months of work from making the decision to surf again to catching the first wave. It was never going to be in one to two foot surf - the effort to reward ratio just wouldn’t have been there - so a lot of planning went into doing it safely. We designed a tow pole for the jet ski to create nose lift, got a custom tow rope, modified a life vest to keep my head clear of the water and had to design a surfboard with a quick-release mechanism that could be used by someone with zero hand function.
Did you have an idea of how the board would work, what it would look like etc?
I was confident the engineering side of things would work, but the surfboard was always going to be a challenge. I called Al Bean and he sounded excited about doing something a little different. Old habits die hard, and even though I’ve lost the use of 90 percent of my body, we tried to build an element of performance into the board, but it lacked stability. Al was genuinely devastated, but I was excited because I knew we were 80 percent of the way there and with the knowledge we’d gained, Al shaped a second board that was perfect.
What advice would you have for others in overcoming physical barriers to achieving goals in sport/recreation activities?
My advice to anyone trying to overcome a physical barrier to achieve a goal would be to embrace failure, because every time you fail, you gain knowledge and get one step closer to achieving your dream. Be patient, and know when not to be too proud to ask for help.