Dave Vlug Is Back From Black

19 Jan 2017 0

Sally Mac

Coastalwatch Digital Editor

COASTALWATCH | INTERVIEW

Dave Vlug, Back From Black

In 2011 Dave Vlug was out with mates in Manly one night when his world turned black.

One of the Volcom team’s hottest Australian surfers, he was spending time at home after the Europe leg of the World Qualifying Series. His world was full of energy and potential. Then everything changed. A security guard kicked a door in his face, critically damaging his left eye.

After being assessed at Manly Hospital he was transferred by Ambulance to Royal North Shore Hospital for specialist emergency treatment. It took three months of tests by specialists before the extent of his injury would be known. For several weeks he was completely blind in the affected eye.

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“It was such an emotional time,” Vlug says, still clearly crushed by the outcome. “The optic nerve in my left eye was completely damaged and I was told I’d lost 92% of my vision in that eye. When I look up it’s all black and looking down it’s just all fuzzy. It was devastating. I thought I would probably never surf again at that point.”

As he began to regain some vision, the true extent of the injury dawned on him. Suddenly the simplest skills were thrown out the window. His depth perception and the ability to judge speed and movement were forever altered. Skills as basic as catching a ball became a desperately frustrating experience. “I can’t just walk up stairs anymore, I’ll miss them or trip up them. I’ve tripped up gutters, and turning corners I’ve hit walls. There have been a lot of injuries and a lot of broken bones in five years.” Terry Fitzgerald hooked him up with some Hot Buttered optical sunnies which helped a lot.

The struggle on land was confronting and he admits it left him feeling defeated and low. He thought his surfing might be done. But as he took his first steps back into the water, he realised it had evolved from a sport that he would approach aggressively with power, into a more intuitive and rhythmic motion - forcing him to learn to be more in tune with the motion of the wave.

“I got back on a board and as I got back into it I was thinking, ‘I can still do this!’” he says. “I surprised myself. It all came back together, and over time, working with Mitchell Beck at Itchy Shapes, my boards got smaller and I started to feel so much better on the waves and my confidence came back.”

It was slow at the start, with longer boards and learning to feel the wave, not force the movement. “Waves are never still, the ocean is constantly moving so the key was learning to move with the movement of the ocean,” Dave says. “Once I worked that out, it was easier to adapt than I thought. I used to be more aggressive with all my moves, seeing a section coming and wanting to put everything into it, now it’s more calculated and reliant upon the feeling to work out what is appropriate in each section - not just relying on seeing what I want to do. Bringing everything back a notch, slowing everything down. It’s been strange but so good for my surfing.

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“I started to get ahead of myself at one point. I tried a backside air, I was going so well and feeling so good but I tried to use my eyes again and got beyond myself. I broke my ankle that day. I was back out of the water, but I could recognise that state I needed to exist in. I had to take everything back in order to learn how to go forward. You really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, I’m just so lucky to have had my sponsors stick by me through this whole ordeal, especially Volcom who have been there since the start.”

After five years, Vluggy is back. It’s been a crazy ride, he admits. “I’ve learnt to be patient and take everything as it comes, my surfing feels so complete it’s flowing and the power and speed has come together with a new rhythm. I’m working as a lifeguard and I love it, it’s be the best job in the world,” he says, genuinely stoked.

In 2016, up against the likes of Cooper Chapman, Davey Cathels and Jordy Lawler, Vlug competed at his local North Narrabeen Boardriders Club and ended the year as A-Grade Champion. The win gave him the confidence to commit to taking on the QS again. “I started getting back into my airs again and pushing myself and everything came together. In 2017 I’m going hard, I’ve entered the QS Australian leg. To make a few rounds I’ll be stoked. That’s the goal, just get back in there, find the rhythm. The WCT is still the ultimate goal, but right now it’s just about fine-tuning equipment and making the transition back into competition.

“I’m so proud of myself to be happy and confident to take this huge step back into competition this year. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

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