Para-surfing: his board kept Eric Dargent afloat in more ways than one!

Friday, 27 november 2020

Eric Dargent saw his life utterly transformed on the day he was attacked by a shark. But his indomitable love of life and his passion for surfing kept him going… as you’ll discover in the following tale of sheer determination that he wanted us to share with you.

Small waves, great passion

What follows is the story of a metamorphosis, of the kind described by André Malraux in his Antimémoires: “one of the most profound that can be created by man, is (the metamorphosis) of a destiny submitted to into a destiny dominated.” Éric Dargent was an almost ordinary man: married, two children, and an avid surfer, a sport that he had been practicing since the age of nine. But life had not made it easy for him. Although he was born in Martigues northwest of Marseilles and grew up on the Mediterranean coast, he lived in a region steeped in the charm of clear-blue bays but largely devoid of massive waves. “Even so, there are still some very interesting spots,” he says. Like his illustrious (but fictitious) fellow surfer “Brice from Nice,” the young Dargent from Martigues spent his time watching out for the slightest wave… and founded a surf club. But surfing is also a way of life, a desire to move elsewhere and discover the world and the people living in it. So he went in search of bigger waves, starting with the Les Landes region and the Basque Country in South-West  France before ranging further afield to the Caribbean, Indonesia, etc. He also kept working as a male nurse, which allowed him to continue practicing his passion for the waves.
This is what led to his decision to settle in the Indian Ocean, on Reunion Island famed for its surf spots but also for the dangers hidden in its waters owing to the presence of sharks. Éric Dargent set off for an initial stay of four weeks to allow him to get used to the new environment. On February 19, 2011, he was surfing in the popular seaside resort of Saint-Gilles when, suddenly, he was attacked by a shark that bit into his left leg. He felt his life beginning to slip away from him. “I realized that if I gave in, it would all be over so I hung on, I didn’t want it all to end so soon…” Éric Dargent survived this tragic accident but he had to have his leg amputated from above the knee. His whole existence was turned upside down… but he was still alive. “I felt a kind of euphoria in being alive and a burning desire to continue living to the utmost. It’s also possible that my job as a nurse helped me put my misadventure into perspective.”

And so, as soon as Éric Dargent was out of hospital and back in mainland France, he went back… to surfing, as if to prove to himself that he was still alive. “It was incredible,” he says, “to feel myself floating, to forget my handicap. I immediately understood how this sport could help disabled people.

He was surfing before he was able to walk again

He decided to make himself an artificial leg to allow him to stand upright on his surfboard. “So I went to see a prosthetist who didn’t say it couldn’t be done. On the contrary, he said he’d do everything in his power to help me. As I came out of his office, I felt as if I were walking on air.” So his misfortune didn’t mean that he would have to give up the love of his life! Three months after his accident, Eric Dargent was standing on his surfboard once again with, at first, a very primitive artificial leg and was surfing almost as well as before. “I was surfing even before I began walking again,” he said with a smile.

Driven by his unwavering determination, he set out to share this enthusiasm with other people finding themselves in a similar situation to his own. This is what led him to set up Surfeurs Dargent, a play on words in French (“Surfeurs Dargent” or silver surfers) referring to the ‘Silver Surfer’ superhero from the world of Marvel comics. “We set up the association in 2011, the year I had my accident. We started by organizing a day of action before working on an artificial leg specifically designed for surfing. We team up with a school specialized in mechanical machining and a company manufacturing shock absorbers for bicycles… and that’s how we developed an artificial limb that is now sold around the world and also used for other sports, such as boxing. As the association receives a percentage of the sales, we’re able to help disabled people practice sliding sports in general.”

A film for sharing

The next stage in Éric Dargent’s commitment will be the subject of a documentary film. “I’m going to Tahiti with two other disabled surfers,” he explains, “Benoit Moreau, who lost an arm, and Jérôme Bonelli, who is deaf. Tahiti is a fabulous place for surfing and will be the Olympic site for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. In the company of film director Michel Garcia, we’ll be meeting amputees and paraplegics in order to share our passion and stoke enthusiasm about what we do. We’d like to encourage people’s desire to take up this sport which provides a well-balanced life for all enthusiasts but especially for the disabled. Banque Populaire Méditerranée will be helping us produce this film about our undertaking, focused on three people experiencing three different disabilities, meeting other disabled people with a view to passing on their passion for surfing and their love of life.”

La suite de l’engagement d’Éric Dargent se traduira dans un film documentaire. « Avec deux autres surfeurs handicapés, raconte-t-il, Benoit Moreau, amputé du bras et Jérôme Bonelli qui est sourd, on va partir à Tahiti qui est un lieu mythique pour le surf et qui sera d’ailleurs le site olympique pour les Jeux Olympiques de Paris 2024. Là-bas, suivis par le réalisateur Michel Garcia on va rencontrer des personnes amputées, paraplégiques, et partager notre passion, créer un engouement. On voudrait insuffler cette envie de se lancer dans ce sport qui apporte un équilibre de vie pour tout le monde mais particulièrement pour les handicapés. La Banque Populaire Méditerranée va ainsi nous aider à produire ce film autour de cette aventure de trois histoires avec des handicaps différents à la rencontre d’autres handicapés pour leur transmettre leur passion du surf et leur souffle de vie. »