Local photographer Lee Bertrand photographed 16-year-old surfer Mick Davey after he returned to the water following a brain injury. 'Everyone loves a comeback story,' he said, 'and he deserves all this for sure.' / Photo by Lee Bertrand.
Mick Davey is no stranger to the water.
The youngest of four, it was a family rite of passage for the La Jolla 16-year-old to learn how to surf with his dad, Chuck Davey, when he was only 4 years old.
“We grew up on the beach,” Chuck Davey said. “We were at the beach every day.”
Throughout his young life, Mick Davey has been fortunate enough to surf internationally in Fiji, Australia, Tahiti, and Barbados. He joined the surf team in middle school — and has since continued to compete for La Jolla High School — after he told his dad he wanted to stop playing soccer. Since it’s a requirement that all the Davey kids participate in a sport, Chuck Davey told his son he had to do competitive surfing — which was fine by him.
“I have more fun surfing and I like being in the water,” he said.
A promising figure on the surf team, Mick Davey caught the eye of Lee Bertrand, a water and surf photographer. They met after Bertrand saw him surfing alongside big names like Damian Hopgood and Josh Kerr.
“He was this 14-year-old kid charging with these pros,” Bertrand recalled. “I felt like he was on a good path of surfing, really humble and cool kid. Then he got that gnarly injury.”
While surfing at Windansea Beach on April 18, 2018, Mick Davey hit his head on the nose of his surfboard, lodging an inch of the board's fiberglass into his brain. He felt something sticking out of his head and quickly swam to shore.
Luckily Chuck Davey, who had been a lifeguard for 36 years, was there and knew exactly what to do.
“It was pretty hectic but the key is to stay calm,” Chuck Davey said. “Anytime there’s something sticking out, you never pull it out. If we would have pulled it out, he would have died because it severed a main vein in his brain.”
"His dad being a local lifeguard probably has a lot to do with why he’s still alive," he said.
Medics quickly arrived on the scene and transported Mick Davey to the hospital. According to Chuck Davey, his son's injury kind of “freaked out” the E.R. doctors.
“They made a call to the neurosurgeon right away," Chuck Davey said. "They couldn’t even fit him in to do a CAT scan because of the fiberglass.”
For four hours, surgeons worked to carefully remove the remnants of the surfboard, seaweed, and seawater from the teen's brain, and three titanium plates were put in his skill to hold the severed vein. The experience was hard on the entire Davey family, especially his dad.
“He wasn’t out of the woods for probably a month,” Chuck Davey said. “Your whole world kind of stops.”
“I don't know; I was pretty stoked to get out of school for a month,” Mick Davey joked with his dad.
Miraculously, he suffered no loss of memory, vision or brain function. And while the doctors said they didn’t want him surfing for six to eight months, Mick Davey started getting back in the water after three — with one modification.
“He had the idea, 'Well, what if I got a helmet?’” Chuck Davey said. A family friend loaned them a Gath surf helmet, which made him feel more comfortable with his comeback.
"When it first happened and I was in the hospital, I looked at my dad and was like ‘I don’t think I want to surf anymore,'" Mick Davey recalled. "Then in two weeks later, I was like ‘I wanna surf. The Gath helmet still makes me feel more confident."
While getting back into competitions and continuing with the surf team are all apart of the grand plan, Mick Davey and his dad agree that he’s taking it easy this year. For now, it's about getting comfortable in the water again — which is easier with Gath is sponsoring him — and enjoying this life he's lucky to lead.