Chris Jones is a surfer, mountain biker, skier, husband, father and an ex-soldier who was injured in service. The injury left Chris with 45% loss of mobility in his legs, PTSD and a life threatening brain condition.
And yet Chris’s Twitter profile states a jaw dropping list of adrenaline kicks and achievements. Personally I struggle to go surfing on a regular basis, so how does a fellow surfer dad do so much?
Let’s find out…
• A surfer since childhood and surf kayaker following your injury, ‘surfing has been your life’. What prompted you to broaden your adrenaline horizons?
I’ve always done lots of other stuff, just that being in the water was always my passion. I remember coming home on leave and riding one of the early mountain bikes (no suspension, crappy brakes etc) on 25 mile round trips from the beach up onto Dartmoor, using as many off-road trails as I could. Recently though, it’s simply come from medical necessity.
When I was diagnosed with my brain problems I was told to stay off the water. Having already suffered an enforced 2 year dry spell after my legs got messed up, I ignored the advice completely and carried on doing what I do!
It worked for about 8 months until one day my brain shut down while I was out on the water. The only way I can liken it is to when your computer freezes, and the only way round it is to reboot. For me it meant my body shut down, including all but my core circulatory system. I totally lost the ability to hold my paddle, and just had to try and use my hips to keep the boat balanced while the waves washed me into the beach.
If I had gone over I’d have drowned, because I’d have had no way to pop my spray deck and exit the boat. I was just very lucky there was someone on the beach to call the emergency services, as I like to surf in fairly quite, unknown spots where I can.
• Do you still get in the water?
Yes, but nowhere near as much as I would like. I have to be SO careful now about when I go out, and if I’m feeling anything less than 100% I have to be strong and say no.
Anyone who surfs in the UK knows you need a lot of things to come together to get good waves, and if you have to try and make that coincide with a medical problem it means very few surfable days. Last year I got out just 13 times, but that’s a lot better than I managed in the two previous years. Having said that I’ve only been out once this year!
• So you surf, MTB, skate and ski, are there any ‘extreme’ sports you want to add to the list?
The one I’d really like to do is skydiving, but I would not be able to jump with my wheelchair here in the UK, meaning I can’t go solo so there’s no point.
Other than that my ambitions are more in pushing the sports I already do, rather than finding new stuff, but I was recently approached by a TV company who wanted to make a programme where I go and try and find new ways to get my adrenaline fix, so we’ll see if anything comes of that…
• How do you make time for all these sports AND overcome your extraordinary obstacles?
I have to. I’m medically not allowed to work more than a maximum of half a week, and that’s purposefully so that I can exercise. To be fair, I don’t think my versions of exercise were exactly what the therapists and doctors had in mind, but they got used to it in the end!
There are times though where I’d like to get out and can’t, even because of my brain needing some down time or my legs being too painful, or just being fatigued from living with this many things to deal with!
I can get REALLY down when I know that the trails are dry, or the surf is pumping while the sun’s shining, and I’m stuck at home because of my medical problems. That can be really tough on me and my Wife.
• What’s your favourite adrenaline fix and why?
Right now it’s mountain biking, simply because it’s the easiest one for me to access.
When I go for a surf it requires a massive logistic effort to get me, my paddle and my boat into the water, but especially back to the car afterwards. It can be REALLY difficult, and I have to factor that in to whether or not I can go. It also means that now I have to pick my surf spots on ease of access, which means I often end up surfing with a lot more people than I would ordinarily like.
With mountain biking I can get the bike out of the car and ride, it’s that simple, and it means it’s a much easier logistical operation for me. I would love to ski more, but the nearest indoor slope to me is a 430 mile round trip away, and skating involves getting to purpose built facilities, so mountain biking is just the easiest one for me to do. It helps that we have some exceptional trails down here too!
• What do you do for a day job?
I’m employed as a teacher, and work with the kids that no one else wants to. I really enjoy it because I love the way they respond to my disabilities. For example, When I’m taking them somewhere within the school, they don’t run away from me because they know I can’t follow them everywhere in my wheelchair, but they will run away from other people. Bless ’em!
I’m also spending a lot of time trying to develop my not-for-profit Community Interest Company, Merici Sports. We are working with Plymouth University to develop a new adaptive mountain bike for riders with lower limb dysfunctions. These bikes currently start at prices from £3,500 going upwards of £5,500 if you want things like suspension and disk brakes. Our bike will retail around £2,000 or lower, if we can get it down more.
• You say the ‘biggest disability is a bad attitude’, how do you keep a positive attitude?
I don’t always, because sometimes that bad attitude is other people’s, not mine. That’s really tough to deal with, because most often there’s nothing I can do to immediately change that person’s outlook.
For me personally it’s usually quite straight-forward; not long after my discharge I was sent to a college for disabled people, and all I found there were middle-aged men who had a dodgy thumb, or had tweaked their back, and hated the world for it. I spent a year in that hole, and swore I’d NEVER end up like them.
• Having said that what REALLY winds you up?
I have found that surfers are very intolerant of anyone else, and have regularly been verbally abused and even threatened in the lineup, yet in most cases I surf better than the moron(s) dishing out the abuse! Mountain bikers, skiers and skaters are utterly STOKED to see me turn up and ride their slopes/trails/pipes, but surfers can be real assholes.
I know almost every surfer reading this will, truthfully or otherwise, tell you how they saw 50 of their mates almost killed by some twat in a kayak, but take a bloody good look at yourselves! I’ve had surfers try and hit me with their boards, tip me over, drop in I don’t know how many times, and all because I dare have the cheek to keep paddling out with 45% less use of my legs than a ‘normal’ person.
Ask any surfer what they’d do to keep surfing if they lost the use of their legs and they’ll tell you they’d do anything. Really? Prove it by being more tolerant of other water users, you have no idea why that guy 10 feet away from you is in a kayak, on a sponge, or paddling a SUP.
• You’ve done the Dartmoor Marathon and competed in a downhill race, what’s the next adventure?
I actually created my own marathon across Dartmoor, and almost all off-road, when I was told I couldn’t do the London Marathon. Long story short, the organisers were total a••holes, and tried to tell me they weren’t discriminating against me, yet, unlike able bodied people, I would have to buy a certified £3,500 wheelchair to compete in!
So I did a longer, tougher marathon than theirs could ever hope to be, and raised £4,500 for The Royal British Legion in the process! Three weeks after that I became the first person in the UK (and we think maybe Europe and possibly the World) to race against able-bodied riders on a dedicated downhill mountain biking course, using a hand cranked bike.
I’m racing again in April this year, but have upped my sights to aim for a race called the Megavalanche in France in 2015, which is a mass-start race down a mountain over a 30km course. I want to be the first disabled person to ride in that race.
I’m also hoping to paddle a sea kayak from Seaton, Devon, to Plymouth in April, to raise money for the RNLI and British Legion. It should take me around 5 days, though I may have to take time out between the paddling days. We’ll just have to see how that goes…
• You’ve said “More extreme sports films should have Kate Bush in the soundtracks”. What would be the soundtrack to your extreme sports vid?
I have a very eclectic musical taste, and listen to everything from traditional celtic music to old school heavy metal, to drum’n’bass and Kate!
Two songs that really resonate with me though are Chicane Featuring Bryan Adams, Don’t Give Up, and Etherwood’s Begin By Letting Go. I’d also have to include Public Enemy’s Harder Than You Think, for the memories it brings back of the euphoria around the 2012 Paralympics!
Here’s Chris’s MTB story (and crash!) on the BBC: