My worst travel injury

At random: A mishap can happen anywhere in the world, even in the place you call home.
At random: A mishap can happen anywhere in the world, even in the place you call home. Photo: Getty Images

I've got an injury. There's still a small lump on my head surrounded by some makes-for-a-good-story bruising. There's also some less visual, but no less serious, damage to my pride.

I was lucky, if you can call anyone who's almost been knocked unconscious in the ocean lucky. A few inches in either direction and I would have been in serious trouble, probably hospitalised. Instead I've just got a bump that hairdressers will be asking about for the next few months.

I'd been talked into going surfing. For anyone familiar with my surfing prowess, you'd know this had disaster written all over it. I don't surf. I can't surf.

But I'd been assured the conditions were perfect for learning. All I had to do was paddle out, wait for a wave and then do my flailing best to stand up on the board.

It even looked OK to me.

Bright, sunny day, a decent breeze, manageably small waves, and hardly anyone on them. However, what appear to be manageably small waves from the beach can start to look like Hawaiian-sized whoppers when you're in the water and you don't know what you're doing.

The first wave was uneventful. I almost stood up and then I fell off. Standard. I popped out of the water, remounted my board and waited for another. My coach was giving me advice – I didn't want to tell him I was already pooped from the paddling.

Another set rolled in and my coach got excited. "This one's yours, Benji!" he yelled as he pushed my board towards the beach. Paddle, paddle, and stand! Except I didn't stand. The wave crashed right over the top of me, sending me tumbling into the foamy wash below.

I popped out of the water a second or two later, scanning the horizon for my board. Pause. Crack! I saw stars for a second, maybe even blacked out. I definitely saw stars. Survival instinct kicked in though and I grabbed hold of the board that was now floating next to me. My coach paddled over, concern pasted over his face like zinc. "You OK mate?"

I nodded. "Um, yeah. What happened?"

"Ha! You got hit in the head with your board! I could hear it from back there. It got caught up in the wind, when you came out of the water it whipped back and smashed you."

Ever wondered what an eight-foot surfboard feels like when it crashes onto your head? No, I hadn't either. But it hurts.

You're probably wondering where this happened, which exotic corner of the world I was hanging out in when my luck run out and a surfboard clocked me in the skull. Would I have had to brave Third World medical help? Could I have needed a helicopter to airlift me to safety?

Not exactly.

To travel to my surf spot of choice all I had to do was go north on the Harbour Tunnel and then turn right towards Manly. My "coach" was my cousin Bobby, a fine surfer in his own right but perhaps not the most experienced teacher. Rather than organise a helicopter to airlift me to medical help, he wandered over to the kiosk and grabbed a couple of Powerades.

The worst injury I've suffered in the last 10 years of travelling and it happened in Manly.

There's a moral to this story of my embarrassing ineptitude (a moral beyond "I'm not cut out for surfing"). And it's this: bad things happen in the most unlikely places. And there's not much you can do about it.

I was in Iran earlier this year, a country everyone thought I was unlikely to return from. But I was fine. More than fine.

I visited Papua New Guinea a couple of months ago and, aside from a jellyfish sting, left the country with nothing but good memories.

I went mountain-biking in Colombia and everything was OK. I ran into violent protests in Thailand and had no issues. I scraped past a rebel uprising in the Democratic Republic of Congo without any problems at all.

But then I went surfing in stupid Manly and nearly knocked myself unconscious.

There are people who will tell you they wouldn't go to "x" country for fear of something going wrong. But things can go wrong anywhere, and the chances of a mishap really aren't significantly increased by leaving the safety of your home country.

(There's an argument for saying the chances are increased by going surfing but let's ignore that for now.) You can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that place could be anywhere. It might happen in Iran. But it could also happen in Australia, in some innocuous situation that people have been in thousands of times before. On that very day.

My advice: don't travel in fear – just make sure you have good insurance. And watch yourself in Manly.

What's the worst injury you've suffered while travelling? Where did it happen? Post your stories below.

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