On a sunny day overlooking Montara State Beach, Adam Bloomer sat atop the cliff and looked out at the waves, reflecting on a harrowing experience five months earlier. A cloth bandage is strapped to his left ear, a remnant of an encounter he can’t forget.
On Jan. 24, with winter surf season in full swing, Mavericks was beckoning with clean winds, a good tide and sizable waves typical of a spot known round the world. At the tail end of the session, Bloomer, 23, fell while taking off on a heaving right-hander. Because of the depth he reached at high speed, both eardrums burst
from the pressure. The wave drove him deep. After some time, dark thoughts arose, but Bloomer did not.
He briefly lost consciousness and awoke at the surface with his equilibrium broken and his vision in a tailspin.
Not being able to tell up from down isn’t a great situation to be in on land. At Mavericks, one of the most notorious surf spots in the world, it can be catastrophic. Drake Stanley was one of a few Jet Skiers running safety that day. He happened to be filming Bloomer’s wave and saw him go down then surface facedown. When Stanley reached him, it appeared as if Bloomer was attempting to swim back underwater. Powerlines Productions, a Coastside film crew that specializes in documenting big surf around the world, has a video of the incident and an interview with Bloomer and Stanley on its YouTube channel.
“I’m sure he knows, but he was within an inch of his life there,” said Stanley, who has been volunteering his time to assist in rescues at Mavericks for the past six years.
“I’ll say it a hundred times: If Drake wasn’t there, I hate thinking about what could have happened,” Bloomer said.
Bloomer went to the emergency room that night. Two weeks after the wipeout, he still had blood coming out of his ears. Aside from the physical discomfort and concussion symptoms, the ordeal had taken a toll mentally. It was a very close call. Bloomer grew up an avid surfer in Half Moon Bay. He was fit and knew Mavericks well, having surfed there on and off since he was 14. His wipeout hasn’t diminished his love of surfing, however it did cause a shift in perspective and make him reconsider his limits.
“For me, it was a big growing moment in terms of what I’m capable of and what’s important in my life,” Bloomer said. “Friends and family are everything.”
It was a harrowing yet valuable reminder for Bloomer and his friends of the wave’s power, even on a fair weather day.
Last week, more than five months after the wipeout, Bloomer had surgery to repair his left eardrum. The problem was exacerbated by another issue, one many surfers face on a day-to-day basis, especially in the cold waters of the Coastside. Exostosis, more commonly known as “surfer’s ear,” occurs when the bone around the ear canal grows to protect the eardrum from prolonged water exposure. It’s the body’s natural response to wind and cold water.
At best, it’s an annoying discomfort. At worst, it’s painful, causes hearing loss and requires surgery. To prevent that, surfers wear hoods or earplugs to keep water out. According to a study from Surf Ears, an earplug company, 75 percent of 107 surfers tested
across a broad age range who had surfed for at least five years experienced some degree of exostosis in at least one ear.
Before fixing his eardrum, Bloomer said his doctor had to grind down the bone growth in his ear, which was 50 percent closed from the exostosis. With the surgery complete, Bloomer will be out of the water for a little more than a month. But he’ll take the lessons he’s learned from the past few months beyond just surfing.
“I’m definitely a proponent for earplugs now that this has happened,” Bloomer said. “Something as small as wearing earplugs in the water can save you from this pretty painful surgery.”