Amazing story of survival in huge Hawaii surf

Ray Hollowell
Ray Hollowell

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

OAHU (KHNL) - Hawaii is known as the big wave capital of the world. But along with the thrill of huge surf, comes big danger for those in the water. Meet an Oahu man who nearly died at one of the North Shore's most treacherous breaks, but is still drawn back into the water.

Ray Hollowell spends as much time as he can in the water.

"I love to surf, I grew up dreaming the cornfields in front of my house were the ocean. So its just born in my blood."

Combining his talent of picture taking and his love for surfing, Ray eventually ended up with the perfect job on Oahu's North Shore, shooting surf contests from the water. But one winter day, his dream job turned into a nightmare at Pipeline.

"it was one of the lowest tides, it was dangerous because the tide was so low. A huge set came in, and the first wave got me, it was a good beat down, a wash and rinse cycle. Then the second wave came."

That wave slammed Ray into the reef, shattering his body.

"I ended up with two brain contusions, my collarbone was broken in four places, I had a torn rotater cuff, broken ribs and chemical pneumonia."

But even worse, the collision knocked him unconscious. He had to be brought to shore and revived by lifeguards. A near death experience he almost didn't survive.

"I was knocking on death's door. I was flatlined. Luckily the lifeguards were able to resuscitate me. Thank God, I'm still here. It just wasn't my time."

It was a long and painful recovery, keeping Ray out of the water for a year. As can be expected, this experience changed him. He no longer recklessly puts himself in danger for the perfect shot, but still has his love of the ocean. And turned his energy into sharing his picture-taking talent and love with future generations.

"I think its critical to education kids about what they can do to help the ocean. First, inspire them to love the ocean and then they'll want to take care of it."

Ray's ocean conservation efforts are reaching an international audience of schoolchildren through his PlanSea programming. A project he brought to life, after his own near death experience.

For more on PlanSea, go to