Living on the Southside of Brisbane for most of my life my parents would frequently drive to the beach on the weekends. My love for the ocean was passed down from my father and mother who spent a lot of time walking the golden sands of our beautiful beaches.
At the age of 8 my father bought a foam bodyboard on our holiday, he would drag me along the sand like a fisherman searching for pilchards in the early hours of the morning. I was instantly hooked on the beach and the surf. Shortly after playing in the shallows my Dad would take me out past the breakers to catch bigger waves. It was then that a true love for the ocean and surfing started to emerge from deep within me.
I began bodyboarding with my friends all throughout high school but it wasn’t until I got my drivers licence that I started to venture down the coast almost daily, searching for waves and the perfect conditions to surf.
Shortly after my 21st birthday, a cyclone swell hit the Gold Coast. Waves were big and windy like a washing machine. My friend Luke and I were so excited for the weekend for when we would venture down to Snapper Rocks and surf “The Superbank” from Snapper to Kirra. The Coolangatta area is a picturesque location and a very popular wave that we often surfed when the swell was too big for other beach breaks.
It was a dark and stormy morning; low-lying clouds graced the horizons with small bursts of rain throughout the morning which made it all the more exciting. Not many people were out there surfing, “perfect,” I thought to myself as the crowds are always an annoyance. We proceeded to jump in at Snapper Rocks and make the paddle past the whitewash that was sweeping us fast towards Greenmount to where I caught my first wave. A barrel in front of the onlookers at the point was the first wave I managed to catch. Several more waves were had at Kirra Groyne whilst we paddled against the ocean currents trying to get the most out of the trip. I was at peace with the ocean, nothing else mattered and all the worries disappeared whilst I was taming the waves.
The sweep was taking me further and further north, by now Luke and I were far apart, so I decided it was time to head in to do another lap. The drift had taken me down towards North Kirra Surf Club where one other surfer and I were out there attempting to catch our last waves before making the long walk back along the coastline.
The world famous "Superbank" and distance travelled 2.44km's.
“My last wave and I’ll go in,” I said to myself and I took the biggest wave I could find. The subtle raindrops bouncing off the oceans roof was splashing back into my face whilst I waited for a set wave to appear on the horizon, a wave rises off in the distance and we both paddled towards it. I’m on; hook line and sinker, gliding along the face of the wave lining up the barrel, when all of a sudden, BANG, silence, darkness and a split moment of nothing. “Did I black out?” GASP for air, holding on tight to my board I tried to lay down on it however my legs weren't moving! All I could think was “What the hell, why can’t I lay straight, what have I done?” CRASH! Another wave landed on my head and I was ragged dolled around the washing machine for what felt like a good 30 seconds. I gasped for air yet again when another wave hit me on the head. Several more waves landed on my head whilst I continued to struggle to get to shore. The whitewash was large and I couldn't surf them. I felt a sharp protruding severe pain like a knife in my back as the adrenaline started to wear off. I thought to myself, “I’m going to die; I don’t have the energy or lung capacity to keep doing this”. Within 10 seconds the same surfer who I was competing with to capture the last wave came in 20 meters down the line. I waved furiously towards his direction, trying to scream for help but nothing came out, my lungs had been hit hard and I was winded from landing on the ocean floor. He sees me and looked confused as to question why I was not catching the whitewash towards the beach. Then a look of realisation and worry appeared on his face and I gave a sigh of relief with renewed hope and a will to survive.
We struggled to get in from the waves as my ability to lay straight was impossible. I continued to get rolled over by every wave that came through our way like tumbleweed in the mid-west.
Finally we arrived at the shore. I tried to stand, my legs failed me and I realised had no control from my waist down. The water continued to wash over me and slowly pushed me along the sand just like my Dad used to do all those years ago. I felt a weird sense of feeling at home and that I would be ok until my rescuer Dan asked me “what’s under your wetsuit?” “Nothing, why?” I replied. He responded, “I don’t want to alarm you but you have a large lump sticking out of your wetsuit the size of my fist”. All of a sudden I started to get a sickening feeling that I had done something that would change my life forever. I reached back to feel how severe it was, all I could feel was a ripped wetsuit and a huge lump. Dan continued to help me by dragging me on my board up the beach to get out of the water and to keep my spine from moving, a critical decision. He raced away for help as I laid there on the beach, clutching my board, alone, waiting for some assistance. I remember feeling cold and wet lying in the sand as the pain began to get worse and worse. Some men from the Gold Coast City Council came down to my aid. I can’t remember what they said or who they were but shortly after a team from RACQ LifeFlight arrived. The helicopter landed on the beach and I was airlifted from Kirra Beach.
I’d like to give special thanks to RACQ LifeFlight for their amazing care and professionalism and of course to Dan, I wouldn’t be alive without you pal. Dan and I met again surfing at a local beach break 4 years later. When I saw him I made sure he understood that he saved a life and I owed him.
After an assessment by the RACQ LifeFlight doctors, I was flown by RACQ LifeFlight to the Princess Alexandra Hospital as I required specialised care. My departure from the beach, transfer and arrival at Princess Alexandra Hospital is extremely vague to me as I was heavily medicated however I was later told that I was placed in critical care, stabilised and prepped for a CT scan.
To say I was in an extreme amount of pain during this time would be a complete understatement! I will never forget the excruciating pain of being positioned whilst getting the CT scan despite being heavily medicated. However, shortly after the CT scan I received the best news I could possibly imagine, my spinal cord was intact and I would walk again one day. I was then diagnosed with a broken and crushed L3 (lower back) vertebrae in 3 places.
I was admitted to the Orthopaedic Unit on Saturday the 25th August 2007 and was told the huge lump (the one the size of a man’s fist…the one the guys at the beach actually thought was bone - as I was later told) was actually a massive haematoma (bruise) which meant I had to wait for the swelling to go down before surgery could safely occur.
Surgery was scheduled for the Monday but was rescheduled due to a critical neck injury case which took priority. After being unable to move an inch for almost 3 days due to the risk of further injuring my spine, being in constant pain and most importantly not being able to eat, I could not wait for surgery to occur. I had surgery on the Tuesday morning after the accident where I had pins and rods inserted into my spine. The surgeons also had to do a bone graft and took bone from my hip to replace the crushed bone in my spine.
X-ray from the side, taken in 2011.
Amazingly, I was able to sit up in bed on the Wednesday, however, I was still in extreme amounts of pain and knew there would be a long road to recovery ahead of me.
The Princess Alexandra Hospital surgeons, Dr Geoffrey Askin and Dr Simon Gatehouse, later told me that I was very close, in fact millimetres away, from becoming a paraplegic and that I was extremely fortunate for some quick thinking from Dan and Dr Matt Dunning the RACQ LifeFlight Retrieval Registrar. I also attribute my fortune to the specialised care I received from the staff at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. Even though I was not in the best head space, the staff always gave me respect and dignity and shared information with me and my family throughout my treatment.
Come to think of it now, I wasn’t fully aware of how my life was about to change and how traumatic this was for my parents and my friend Luke, who was left down at the beach whilst I was being airlifted.
In the days that followed my surgery, I started rehabilitation in the Orthopaedic Unit. We started with small with minor leg movements and exercises however I will never forget the feeling I had when I realised that I could use my legs and that I would in fact eventually walk again. I had tears in my eyes at that realisation, however, I’m still not sure if these were tears of joy or caused by the pain in taking my first steps.
Miraculously, I was able to walk out of the Princess Alexandra Hospital 10 days later. Well, I like to think I walked out, as I was able to take 10 small slow steps at a time, but in reality, I was pushed out in a wheelchair. It was then I started the journey in making a remarkable recovery during the long months that followed.
I’d like to give huge thanks for the excellent treatment, service and professional care I received at the Princess Alexandra Hospital Orthopaedics Unit. I was always kept fully informed as to what was happening in relation to my treatment and condition and felt that I was in the best hands possible. The staff also made sure that my very worried parents were ok as well and for that I will be forever appreciative.
During my recovery which spanned many months, I had a lot of bed rest however I also incorporated swimming at our local Logan Aquatic Centre. It was during my time of recovery that I purchased my first camera. I would spend hours in bed reading camera manuals, photography books and photo composition guides. When I built my strength up enough to walk short distances and drive, I took day trips to the beach as I still loved to be near the ocean even if I wasn’t able to swim or bodyboard just yet. During these trips I would bring my camera with me and practiced photographing the ocean.
I had a full year out of the water after my accident and it was during this time that my love for photography really came to fruition. I spent my time capturing my friends surfing and bodyboarding whilst waiting on the shoreline like a fish out of water (ironically) as I was eager to get in and participate. Even though I couldn’t get back out in the ocean during my recovery I found so much peace in being present at the beach and capturing the ocean’s beauty.
After 12 months of physiotherapy, my physio told me that getting back in the ocean would be good for me. Once I got the go ahead I didn’t hesitate and jumped back into the ocean and surfed HUGEEEEE half a foot waves ha-ha. I was scared and anxious for the outcome but didn’t want to spend one more second spectating. My muscles were sore for 3 weeks after that day, with heaps more physio needed, but a thrill and excitement was reignited in me like my younger 8 year-old self, stoked to be in the water.
Finally, after several more months of physiotherapy and training in the pool, I felt comfortable with my core strength and ability to swim for longer periods of time. I then purchased a surf waterhousing for my camera as I was always fascinated in capturing what happens under the surface and the motion of waves. When I first told my close friends I was spending nearly two thousand dollars on a surf waterhousing for my camera they looked at me like I was crazy! But that didn’t stop me, I had a vision and I needed that special piece of equipment to achieve my dreams.
After months of teaching myself and learning with the surf waterhousing, my images began to get noticed by top surf magazines, international photography competitions and other photographers who continue to inspire me to this day.
There is a particular image that will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s called Exit Wave – Duranbah Beach, QLD Australia. I took this image shortly after purchasing my water housing and it depicts the intensity of the bodyboard rider pulling through the back of the wave. There are a couple of reasons why this image is so important to me:
Whilst the accident was an extremely traumatic event for both me and my family it did result in giving me the drive and passion for pursuing photography. It’s through photography that I am able to express myself through an art form and share what I find beautiful and interesting with others.
I look at life as a bunch of opportunities. It’s often hard to realise but after one door closes, another will open. I know it's cliché’ but it keeps me positive and being positive will change your life. I fully believe that photography not only aided in my unbelievable recovery but gave my life a new direction and purpose.
Every time I look out at the ocean I think about how lucky I am to be walking let alone swimming and surfing again. This is what drives me to inspire others to appreciate the ocean and all that Mother Nature has to offer. Whether it is the natural beauty of the ocean and its magical seascapes, or the perfection of the surf, or the mountains, lakes and landscapes around me… I want to share it all with you through my eyes and my vision.
One of my first photographs of surfers/bodyboarders from the shore.
One of my first water shots with my SPL Waterhousing ordered from the USA. Burleigh Heads inside out looking north.
Once I started to get the hang of it - Josh Kerr getting slotted at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast, Australia. One of the best point breaks.
Well, here’s the thing, I don’t know what will happen for me in the future. The 25th August 2017 marks 10 years from the date of my accident. During that time I have established Jon Wright Photography as a business and have also created a second event photography and wedding business called Blank Canvas Photography. I like to consider myself as one of those extremely lucky people who have not only found their passion in life but also have the ability to pursue their passion as a career. I hope one day to never ‘work’ a day more in my life and continue to deliver breathtaking pieces of artwork for future generations.
After many years of developing my own style of photography, which was influenced by many great photographers before me, I try to strive to inspire others to participate in this beautiful world of art and colour. My artwork and ocean images are reflections of my moods and artistic eye, from years and years of capturing the ocean, surf and landscapes on the Gold Coast as well as other parts of the world. Whenever I capture a beautiful image of a wave with sunlight catching its spray, I think back to that day and remember how much it changed my life. I often imagine where I would be today without that event as I may not have ever been inspired to create images in the art of photography.
Underwater Dream - Top 3 images in the International Loupe Awards, picking up a nice little prize.
My moto from the very beginning has and always will be
“IMAGINE, CAPTURE, INSPIRE”
What does that mean? Well it’s a 3 step process from beginning to end. It’s the way I process a concept, dream or vision before and after I reach a location.
Imagine the possibilities of art and photography, nothing is impossible. I often dream of new concepts and ideas that one day I want to bring to life. Dreams and visions can be made to come to life. The same goes for everyday life, if you have a vision, chase it and make it happen. At first, you might not succeed but continue to chase after it and never give up.
Capture the moments and those dreams you have had, no matter what they are. For me, this is where I turn the concepts and dreams into art. This is where I want to capture the dream or thought I had for a particular location. Go out and chase those dreams and capture the moments you have been wanting or have experienced.
Inspire others through what you do. This is the last of the process and the most important. I aim to inspire others creativity and their dreams through my photography and art. Whether it is the concepts or the sheer beauty of nature that I have captured I always hope that these images inspire you and your family.
For me, there has always been a sole focus on capturing the ocean, whether it is the form of landscape/seascape photography or surf art and shore break photography. Over the years my portfolio has grown to see many different styles and techniques. You will see a vast range of images on my website and even more on Instagram and Facebook as not all of them make the cut to my website.