Christy Davis is no novice waterman. The 66-year-old veteran surfer has been charging the swells at Mavericks for nearly three decades.
But, during an otherwise productive session at the notorious big-wave break on March 11, Davis started to feel serious pain on the left side of his chest.
“It felt like compression from both the front and the back,” the Half Moon Bay local later recounted on Instagram. “When numbness started creeping down my left arm, I became worried and asked if someone would paddle in with me.”
As the pain grew stronger, Davis knew he had to get to shore quickly. A concerned cohort of fellow surfers, including August Hidalgo, Frank Jimenez, Alex Martins, Manny Resano and Hide Minami, helped steer Davis around the area’s rocky outcropping.
“You have to get around these waves to get (to shore),” said Grant Thompson, a filmmaker and friend of Davis. “There were a bunch of guys surrounding him and trying to time it with the waves to get him safely to shore.”
Davis was rushed to Mills-Peninsula Medical Center — and straight into surgery. “(They) put a stent in my heart,” he wrote on Instagram. “My (left anterior descending artery) was 100 percent blocked.
“The doctors said that it was a serious heart attack,” he continued, “and that if I was not in such good shape, I most likely would have died.”
Davis has had other recent brushes with disaster. Last May, while longboarding at a reef around the corner from Mavericks, he was thrown into an underwater rock. He broke a bone in his neck and two in his back before making the trek back from Ross’ Cove.
Davis noted the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms that often precede a heart attack, some of which were unfamiliar to him. The night before, for example, he woke up drenched in sweat — an early warning sign of a heart attack.
“With 20-20 hindsight, I would have allowed myself to be towed all the way in and then called 911 from the beach,” he said. “A friend of mine that had just left, a nurse, said to me, ‘Oh, man, I wish I were there. I never would have allowed you to paddle.’”
Davis said that, “miraculously,” he ultimately suffered minimal damage from the heart attack. He was released from the hospital on March 13.
“(The damage) was limited to the lining of the upper left ventricle, where the (blockage) was,” he explained.
By next season, Davis continued, he should be ready to return to surfing. In the meantime, he’s grateful for his peers who helped ferry him safely back ashore — and for the support he’s received the collective surfing community, as well as from his wife and two daughters.
“My wife has put up with helping me recover from both of these things,” he added.