Editor’s Note: Last year at the annual Byerly Toe Jam Matt Manzari suffered a horrific crash during the boat portion of the contest. Everybody was worried not just for Matt’s career, but for his health and life going forward. Nobody knew at first if he’d be able to ride the same again, or even ride aggressively at all. Obviously, Matt made a miraculous comeback, during which he wrote this piece for the magazine. Seeing him come back and not just ride, but make the finals at the last stop of the Wakeskate Tour (Contingency) was nothing short of amazing. This is the reason we crowned Matt the Comeback of the Year in the Photo Annual issue.
“Standing on the dock at Toe Jam that morning seemed like another routine day wakeskating for me. I have ridden, competed, and had photo shoots at the Projects since I was 15, so I felt comfortable and confident. What I didn’t know was that in the next few minutes, I would experience an accident that would impact my life forever, and drastically change my lifestyle for the next few months. After an early morning wakeup to get to the contest, being first off the dock was not exciting to me. Normally it’s never fun to be first off the dock at a contest and normally it’s never very exciting. Little did I know I was about to change both the contest as well as my life. It was standard practice for the team in the boat to be dialing in the wake for part of my first pass. Testing the wake, I did a couple basic tricks before realizing I was already nearing the narrow spot without really having started anything that would resemble a boat pass at a Toe Jam. I thought that I had enough time for one trick, but when I was about to edge in, I signaled to speed up, without realizing that this eliminated any space I had for a trick. I was only looking at the wake and edging in for a nose grab front side 360.
That was the last thing I remembered. I opened my eyes in an emergency room with doctors surrounding me frantically performing tests, telling me not to move, and asking me all sorts of random questions… “What is your name?” “Do you know what day it is?” “Who is the President of the United States?”… My name is Matt. It’s Toe Jam. And the president is Obama. It almost seemed like my subconscious knew something about the accident because I wasn’t extremely confused, but I just wanted to know what happened. In my mind nothing too serious could have happened, and I had to get back to Toe Jam for the winch contest. The worst part of being in the hospital was, when I woke up my lips were cracked because I was so dehydrated, and I have never wanted water so badly. When I asked for water I quickly learned that I would have to wait and was told I couldn’t drink anything until after surgery. They informed me I couldn’t even have ice chips because my jaw was broken in two places. My outlook grew somewhat grim.
Memories over the next few days were vague, just glimpses. People visiting and telling me what happened. Nurses giving me shots. Pain. Thirst. Some confusion. Some doubts. Some hope. Eventually I was told how, while I was in the air, Kyle Rattray was in tune enough to realize I was probably going to land onshore, and he killed the boat throttle. If Kyle didn’t kill that throttle, I might not be writing this article, and I’m forever grateful and thankful to him. Right after landing, I did hit the shore, which is lined with cinderblocks to prevent erosion. My best friend, Reed Hansen, jumped in his truck and sped over to my side while Brandon Thomas, being in my heat, saw what happened and ran so hard to help that he pulled something in his leg. I thank God for the people that were there as I hear how attentive and insightful they were. Reed was one of the first people to get to me, and he told me he held my head while I was lying down, and within a minute, he was covered in blood coming from my mouth, eyes, nose, and cheeks, chin. Rodrigo Donoso, who was shooting photos that day, came next to hold me as they waited for the ambulance. It’s amazing how key people with strong stomachs and a somewhat calm state of mind were in place to help me, and I’m so grateful for everybody who helped.
Many people have asked me about what the recovery process has been like, and what I think about the accident. As I see more doctors, I see what a miracle it was that my injuries weren’t worse, or even fatal. My skull on the end of my eyebrow broke. The top corner of my cheek broke. The bones around my temple broke. Doctors have told me that just a slight bit more pressure on my temple and it would have all been over. Ultimately, my face had severe breaks in over 13 places, the number can’t be exact because some of the breaks were explained to me as looking like a box of Rice Krispies, where the bones were more smashed than broken. Doctors tell me if I had been looking a couple inches to the right, the breaks would’ve been in the middle my forehead, most likely hitting through to my frontal lobe. This would have either severely altered my personality, or caused me to become brain dead. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and thankfulness that my injuries weren’t worse, and I feel that a protective hand was with me throughout the whole ordeal. I haven’t felt any feelings of anger or regret, only joy and thankfulness.
The recovery itself has been challenging, and it seems to affect many areas of daily life. I’ve been walking around with a walker for almost a month because I also have a break in my tailbone. Today I realize I took simple things for granted – the things you never think about. Like getting into a car, or getting your legs up onto the bed, or standing. You feel like a burden to your loved ones when you can’t even put your shoes on. With my jaw being broken, I can only open my mouth wide enough for things like crushed noodles and plain tuna. Soft foods are required, so even eating has been frustrating. I’m not allowed to blow my nose, sneeze, or use a straw for two months because of the crushed bones in my nasal passage. These are just some of the many changes that have taken place in my life these last few weeks.
My wife has been my number one supporter, being strong through this process as she patiently helps with every little need since the moment of the crash. Also, my parents put a hold on their lives allowing my wife and I to stay at home. We were supposed to move our apartment back from Tennessee the weekend after the accident, but there has been no time to find a house. My parents have been extremely helpful to us through this recovery. Because I had an incredible plastic surgeon, my face appears to be almost completely recovered on the outside with no distortions. He did not want to make six or seven incisions in my face, and he opened me up through the back of my mouth and was able to put all the screws in my nose, lower cheek, and plate in my jaw from the inside, leaving no visible scars. He made one incision by my right eye, where he put screws and two plates surrounding my eye and upper cheek. I’m incredibly grateful that after the extensive surgery of 16 screws, three plates, over 13 broken bones, as well as others that were shattered, and a broken jaw; I only have one visible scar by my right eye.
This whole experience has been extremely humbling, and if somebody had told me to be careful not to hit shore while wakeskating that day, I would have laughed. I don’t want to live my life in constant fear of a freak accident or tragedy, but I don’t want to live with unresolved issues still out there. Now more than ever I always want my friends and loved ones to know how much their relationships mean to me. I never want to have regrets because something went unsaid or a grudge was held. A few years ago I felt a move to change my focus from worrying about myself, to living a life that actually helped and affected others. I represented this with a crossroads in my last board graphic with CWB. This accident is a wake-up call; time is never guaranteed in life, to anybody. Looking back at the whole process it is overwhelming to see how many people were there to help me, from the moment I wrecked at Toe Jam in early April, to writing this article almost a month later. I feel extremely blessed and this journey has been forever imprinted into me and will undoubtedly shape the path I take as my journey continues. I only hope I don’t take the extra time I’ve been given for granted.”