Amputee gets 'revenge' on shark by surfing again

He lost his leg to a shark but refused to lose his spirit or his passion for surfing. Instead, Mr Dargent helped create a prosthetic knee to allow amputee athletes to live their dreams once more.
He lost his leg to a shark but refused to lose his spirit or his passion for surfing. Instead, Mr Dargent helped create a prosthetic knee to allow amputee athletes to live their dreams once more.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ (France) • After losing a leg in a shark attack in 2011, avid French surfer Eric Dargent did not waste time ruing his misfortune - instead, he set out to get his "revenge".

"Just a few days after the accident, I already wanted to get back on a surfboard," he said.

To do just that, he teamed up with snowboarding amputee Patrice Barattero to invent a prosthetic knee specially adapted to their sports, with help from a vocational high school and an orthopaedic specialist.

The artificial knee, which is resistant to both sea water and low temperatures, incorporates a hydraulic shock absorber that is used in mountain bikes.

"A lot of things are different, but at the same time there are parallels with an able-bodied person," said Mr Dargent, now 39.

"There's this motivation, this energy, this revenge," he said after riding the waves off Saint-Jean-de-Luz in south-western France.

He was attacked by a shark while on a trip to Reunion island in the French Indian Ocean in February 2011. The incident occurred on the west side of the island, which had previously been considered safe.

"My leg was ripped off in a few seconds. I didn't realise it right away," Mr Dargent said, almost mechanically. "Luckily I wasn't far from shore."

The mangled leg had to be amputated, leaving only a short stump.

Experts advised him to take up a different sport because the amputation was too high above the knee. But moved by his tenacity, orthopaedic specialist Bertrand Tourret-Couderc decided to back his vision of surfing again.

"For Eric, getting back on a surfboard was as important as being able to walk again," Dr Tourret-Couderc said.

French firm Proteor perfected the device and began marketing it a few months ago for €3,000 (almost S$5,000).

Some sports prostheses can cost as much as €8,000.

With the prosthesis, now marketed as the Easy Ride sports knee, Mr Dargent was able to win France's inaugural adaptive surfing championship last year. During the year, he also came in fifth at the world championships for the sport, held in California.

Looking relaxed and sporting a three-day-old beard at the interview, he said: "I forget about my handicap when I'm in the water."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Amputee gets 'revenge' on shark by surfing again'. Print Edition | Subscribe