October 20, 2022
Byline: Caroline Williams
An Auckland man who was badly injured in a kite surfing accident has kept himself busy during his recovery by designing a mechanism to stop others being hurt in the same way.
Oteha resident Gary Bartlett grew up wind surfing in South Africa, where he was on the verge of a getting a full professional sponsorship before he became bored.
Bartlett wanted to take things to the next level by kite surfing, but decided it would be irresponsible to take up a dangerous sport while he had young children.
About five years ago, Bartlett was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. After learning kite surfing gear had been made safer over the years, he decided to finally give it a go to distract him, rather than see a therapist.
Kite surfing saw his mental health improve "incredibly", he said.
Bartlett knew he would feel "transformed with new energy" after a session on the water.
But following a session at Orewa Beach in May, Bartlett was picked up by a "freaky, unpredictable" gust of wind, which dumped him head first onto some rocks about 15 metres away.
Bartlett was wearing a helmet, but suffered a shattered jaw, broken nose, 10 broken ribs resulting in flail chest (when sections of broken ribs separate from the rib cage and interfere with breathing), a punctured lung, injuries to his vertebrae and a probable concussion.
He doesn't remember much of the accident, including his flight to Auckland City Hospital via the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.
"My first ride in a helicopter and I don't even remember it," Bartlett said.
At Auckland City Hospital, Bartlett's family were "horrified" by the state of his bloodied body and doctors told him he was lucky to be alive.
"My surgeon said that my jaw looked like a bowl of cornflakes."
Bartlett is still recovering from the accident, which earned him some new metal hardware in his jaw and chest.
However, he said he "can't wait" to get back in the water, which he hoped would be in December.
A qualified engineer, Bartlett has kept himself busy designing a mechanism to detach surfers from their kites should the wind pull harder than expected.
It can be adjusted to suit different weights and wind conditions.
"Instead of needing your hand to get to the manual quick release, an automatic release will come into operation and you won't need to do anything."
He hoped to trial the mechanism with his kite surfing group before distributing it among the wider community, so that others wouldn't suffer injuries like his.