Phillip Chapman grew up in Cape Town, and was schooled at Pinelands High. He had a successful competitive surfing career, and dominated events held in solid surf. His standout performances always came when the waves were serious. Favourite spots included Kalk Bay, Outer Kom, big Dunes and Sea Point’s infamous [Off The Wall].
His studies saw him become Dr Chapman, currently Staff Specialist in Emergency Medicine at the Bunbury Regional Hospital in Western Australia, and the man behind Surfing Doctors.
The Surfing Doctors describe themselves as:
“… a close-knit group of like-minded individuals who have filtered out of various specialties and areas of medicine to combine the love of two totally different passions; the surfing sport and lifestyle, and a lifelong career in medicine.”
Their ethos reads “To head out to remote areas and act as caregivers to a host of different people including the setting up of long-term projects with the local population, and looking after the guests and staff where we are based.”
In short, they get to travel to amazing surf locations round the world, snag a few set waves and look after surfers who smash themselves up on the reef. Not a bad way to pass the time.
“At this stage we operate from G-Land mostly, “ explains Dr Chapman, “but we get gigs at Tavarua, Maccas, and a few other low-key spots like the Solomons. We have set up the main infirmary at G-Land, so that’s really our base.”
Dr Chapman has spent his time on the road however, more than most of the doctors on the Surfing Doctors roster. “I’ve done this gig in Java, Sumatra, Fiji, Australia and South Africa.”
It’s not all roses though, as their job is dealing with radical situations, and at times severe trauma. His worst situation was a full blown near death pelvic split at G-land. An inexperienced surfer panicked, turned his back to a set wave, and got smashed, with the wave splitting him in half, pretty much. Dr Chapman was on duty, and the surfer survived, barely. ”We had some near drowning situations recently as well,” said Dr Chapman. “One made it and one didn’t.”
Medicine and surfing.
There are good times as well for the Surfing Doctors. “The best part of the job is that we can combine two passions, of medicine and surfing, as well as meeting cool crew,” reckons Dr Chapman. “Then we get to share waves with them and even a few drinks afterwards.”
Still, most surf destinations do not have a resident Surfing Doctor on call. Surfers need to take control of their health and safety while traveling. This is especially important when heading for the more remote surf destinations that are becoming more and more popular. Surfers these days tend to shy further and further away from the crowds. “It is essential that you have adequate medical insurance,” reckon Dr Chapman.
This needs to include medevac cover, so that you can get a helicopter out to pick you up where possible. Better than bouncing through the jungle for days with possible broken bones. “It is also essential that you have a decent medical kit. I also reckon that traveling surfers should take a BLS course – Basic Life Support. This gives you skills you can use when you least expect it.”
It’s great to have a Surfing Doctor on call when you’re surfing and charging some thick Indonesian barrels. It’s just as important to be able to look after yourself as well.