My Near-Death Wakeboard Crash

Chad Sharpe details the dangers of not wearing a life jacket 100 percent of the time.

In conjunction with National Safe Boating Week 2012 we will be featuring first-person accounts of those who survived an accident on the water. Today’s story comes from one of the biggest names in wakeboarding, Chad Sharpe.

While Sharpe wore his life jacket a majority of the time he was wakeboarding, he faced a near-death experience when he went out for a casual pull without a life jacket on in 2010. Shortly after the crash, he reflected on what he was thinking as he almost drowned. We are sharing his thoughts here at Compass in the hopes you will learn the one thing Sharpe did that day – wear a life jacket!

Wakeboarding requires incredible skill and the ability to move freely. Click on the above image to see a video of Chad Sharpe proving you can pull off the hardest of tricks while on a board, while still being safe and wearing a life jacket.

A couple years ago I was out riding with another pro wakeboarder, Scott Stewart. It was pretty cold so I was just messing around, having some fun, trying to stay in shape over the winter and my backside 540 was not going so well.

I was turning the last 180 really late and having some trouble with it. I figured I would just grab the next one to speed it up and problem solved… right?

Keep in mind before I tell this next part, I wear a vest 99 percent of the time I ride. It was cold and I was wearing a wet suit so I did not for some reason on this set.

No excuse and a very bad idea.

So I cut in for the backside 540, grab the board and the next thing I realize is I am upside down in the water looking up at my board and light at the top of the water. Not such a bad thing, just swim up and wait for the boat to get back, right? That’s what I thought until I tried to swim up and my whole body was not working at all, its just fuzzy and tingling but not moving.

Panic time.

So I still had a whole breath and am looking at the top trying not to panic. I actually am floating up slowly so going through my head is “You still have a whole breath, your slowly going up, the boat has got to be back soon, don’t panic and save your breath.”

Chad Sharpe
Chad Sharpe faced a near-death experience when he went out for a wakeboarding session without a life jacket on in 2010. Photo courtesy of Ronix

The closer I got to the top of the water the more my hands were starting to move. By the time I hit the top, Scott was very close, I was yelling to get back but my hands were only slapping the top of the water. Scott pulled me on the platform and it took a good couple minutes to get my movement back in the whole body.

It had to be the scariest few minutes of my life; first thinking I was going to drown, then wondering if the lack of movement in my body was paralysis.

I have to thank Scott for getting back so quick and his calmness when I was borderline freaking out.

The whole time I was under water I was trying to keep it calm but so many thing were racing through my head. 15 to 20 seconds feel like hours. As bad as it was I was so very lucky that I had not knocked the wind out of myself or came out of my bindings. I would have been floating away from my board to the bottom not even being able give a fight.