On December 4, 1998, Bruno Hansen climbed into a car with a girl he met at a party in Cape Town, South Africa. Just days before, he was a charter captain sailing across Sumatra and Phuket. He often surfed and swam, and always found himself near the sea. Lean, free-spirited, and charming, at 27, his only worry was the decision of where to travel to next.
While driving on the highway in Cape Town, Hansen survived a hijacking that made his car spin and crash. He woke up upside down, with his seatbelt on, and heard shots fired.
Tugged out of the car while his legs were stuck under the seat, Hansen was beaten unconsciously by the carjackers. At the edge of a hill, the car started to rock back and forth, eventually rolling down the slope. Half of Hansen’s body was inside the car, while the other half snapped from the impact. He waited seven hours in and out of consciousness, completely paralyzed while his right leg hung over his face.
Days later after intensive care and major surgeries, Hansen miraculously woke up to hear from the doctor, “Son, a shoot from the hip. You’re paralyzed, and you will never walk again.”
Shocked, Hansen’s mind shut down again and he passed out.
Hansen wasn’t afraid to fight. If someone told him he couldn’t do something, he would go out of his way to do it. Being told that he was paralyzed was just another challenge.
However, newly bound to his wheelchair, he started to feel heavy on the ground without his legs. The limitations overwhelmed him. Just before, his life was limitless. He traveled, free from attachments, and completely independent.
Now, he felt stuck on land and faced turbulent emotions.
He even tried to kill himself. The first time, it was few months after recovering from the accident. After hitching a ride to Mexico, Hansen was drinking with some local men at a bar. Angry and alone in a foreign country, Hansen joked with the men about ending his life. One of the men put a bullet inside the chambers of the revolver and pushed it towards him, saying, “You want to kill yourself? Go ahead and try it.”
Hansen grinned and pulled the trigger. Nothing occurred.
“After I pulled the trigger and nothing happened, I proved to myself that I could go through suicide,” stated Hansen.
He decided he would end his life drowning at the place he loved—the ocean.
Hansen paddled to the shore with his board and threw himself off. His new body felt too heavy, and he planned to sink to the bottom. Instead, he kept bobbing up to the surface. Hansen got back on his board and swam further away from the shore, hoping his limp body would sink to the ground.
As he swam towards the deeper part of the ocean, a small wave crashed into him, shifting him towards the shore. Sad, angry, and confused, the man was carried by the waves while he was on the board. A joyful feeling washed over him, similar to how he felt while surfing months before breaking his back.
“Something rebooted in me and my system. As I was going on that board, I was watching the water move underneath me and I felt the feeling of surfing. Something happened, and I don’t know quite what it is. Somehow, I reconnected with the ocean,” said Hansen.
He became addicted to that feeling and started surfing again, which made him stronger, gave him purpose, and strengthened his mental stability.
Hansen started to challenge himself, like he did before the accident.
Holding on to the straps of his surfboard, Hansen lay down and rode the waves. Though on ground his body felt heavy, underwater he felt weightless. After finding his element, Hansen decided to push himself further by sailing across the sea.
He refurbished a yacht to sail it across the Indian Ocean to Thailand. Every day he would spearfish, swim, and search for ocean treasures. With his friend James Taylor by his side, Hansen continued to push his limits; Taylor had to save his life more than a few times.
Then one day, in December 2004, a tsunami hit Thailand. Alone on a boat, Hansen faced waves that went up to 30 feet. At the age of 34, the man clung for his life once more.
The water again became a turning point, shifting his perspective.
“I realized that the ocean wasn’t out to get me. Because up until that point, I was still slightly fearful of the ocean because physically I was not strong as I was before. I thought I wouldn’t surf the same waves I surfed before. But, after the tsunami something happened to me. My fear limits rose to another level which got me to the point I am now. Where I can swim big waves fearlessly and safely and basically like the same waves I surfed before I broke my back,” said Hansen.
Becoming the person he was before, he grew more bold, constantly traveling. Shortly after the tsunami, he sailed to Bali. He continued to meet amazing people, which he credits to his positivity attracting good into his life. Never far from the ocean, Hansen continued to sail, surf, and swim.
Hansen later won the Prone Division of the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Adaptive surfing championships in 2015, 2016, and 2017. He got first place in the UK Open 2017, Duke’s Oceanfest Hawaii 2016 and 2018, the U.S. Open in 2017, and the South African Open in 2018.
Inspired by his own experience, he plans to open a rehabilitation center for newly-disabled individuals in Panama. Seahabilitation, nicknamed The Devocean Project, will provide therapy through recreational activities such as surfing, biking, and kayaking.