Why this wipeout proved too close for comfort to his family.
You might think Laurie Towner’s family is used to him traveling the world in search of the biggest most dangerous waves he can find. But there was an air of foreboding in the Towner residence in the days leading up to his most recent job; working as a stunt surfer for the Hollywood re-make of the infamous 1991 flick Point Break.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that his brother Hughie had only recently returned from the Mentawai’s with a broken collarbone and fractured eye socket, only to be diagnosed with a small bleed on his brain upon return; or that his other brother Joel cracked a few ribs just a few weeks ago while surfing Angourie; and as we all know, there’s a long standing superstition of things happening in three’s.
But the Towner family is well experienced in the realm of surf injuries; Laurie has been quoted as saying “It’s a good year if I’m only hospitalized twice.” Hell, his mum Jane, a nurse, even broke her back surfing a few years ago, and as for her partner Baddy Trelore, one can only guess at how many times he has bounced off the bottom or been struck by his board in the more than 50 years he has been surfing almost every day.
But when I asked Jane how she felt about this mission of Lozza’s, just the day before his injury, she seemed a little more concerned than usual. So when news of Laurie’s being knocked unconscious and suffering a major head trauma while surf big Teahupo'o were rung through to his partner Bronwyn on Friday morning, it was hard not to fear the worst.
Information was limited and a silence fell over the house as dribbles of information came through which often only made things sound worse. When Laurie finally made a call groggy to Bronwyn and assured her that he was OK, there was some relief; but then again it’s in his nature to play all his injuries down.
When his mum finally talked to him this morning (Sunday 14th) he told her, “I knew I shouldn’t have let go of the rope as soon as I did, it was an ugly wave; I’ve caught enough waves out there to know better, it wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own.” Though Dylan Longbottom would normally be towing Laurie, this day it was the job of Laird Hamilton, as Dylan was also hired to surf as a stunt double.
“I remember hitting the bottom … and then nothing,” he said. Knocked unconscious and dragged over fifty meters down into the lagoon, the rescue operation took place in the wrong area as the enormous next wave dragged Laurie’s almost lifeless body far from where it was expected to surface.
“I came to way down the line gasping for air,” he said “thankful that I’d decided to wear a second life vest.” Though soon retrieved and rushed to hospital - with a nasty cut on his mouth and above his eye - both of which required stitches, it wasn’t until he was relocated to the more modern hospital in nearby Harare and was re-examined, that a coral puncture wound through his neck into his mouth was discovered; which had missed his carotid artery by only millimeters.
There are so many ways Laurie could have died that morning. Massive brain trauma, a broken neck, drowning, bleeding out, or even coral poisoning. But the support he received proved lifesaving and he expressed a debt of gratitude to all involved in his rescue; particularly Carl and the employees of the production company who hired him, and even Laird who wasted no time in visiting him bed side.
As luck would have it, none of the terrible scenarios which might have transpired did, and while he is most assuredly more banged up than he’s ever been (and that’s saying something) he’s not only still alive, he will live to surf another day.
Jane said after talking to him on the phone after Bronwyn had flown off to be by his bedside, “I had a bad feeing about this trip, I kept thinking ‘I’ve got to get my passport’ and was too worried to even talk about it until after he won the $15,000 down at the Red Bull comp the other week.”
“Something was on Laurie’s side” Jane said. And as the full relief settled in over the Towner household and laughter was once again heard for the first time in 24 hours, Jane spoke with him on the phone and was relieved to find him “Still the same old Laurie”. She told him she believed his Grandfather, who has passed over, had saved him. Laurie’s answer, “Someone sure did.”
Laurie will remain in Tahiti with Bronwyn until the swelling subsides and he is deemed fit to travel by the specialist treating him. After which he will no doubt be looking forward to re-uniting with his family and friends in Angourie, and giving his beautiful little 7 month old baby girl Lyla - who remains blissfully unaware of the drama which has just unfolded - a very big cuddle.