How I broke my ankle surfing right before a big trip

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TL;DR Summary
  • Broke my ankle (fibula) surfing August 24 2023
  • Nondisplaced fracture not requiring surgery
  • Put in a walking boot and told to weight bear as tolerated
  • Using crutches and a knee scooter, considering iWalk crutch
  • Trip to Greek islands falls at 5 weeks post-break, TBD if we’ll go

Breaking my ankle

I broke my ankle surfing, a thing I didn’t know was possible. Here I was worried about sharks when what I should have worried about was the sandy ocean bottom.

To add insult to injury, the surf was terrible. I was the only one out, always a sign it’s not worth it. I got bashed by wave after messy wave as I paddled out, never having mastered the duck dive. I caught a couple but didn’t really manage to stand up, and started conjuring visions of sharks in the muddy water.

It was time to go in, but first I needed to catch one more wave—I always try to end on a positive note.

A surf where I did not break my ankle, going into St Augustine Beach north of the pier.
Taken earlier in the week, under very different circumstances.

I caught a wave, got vertical, and fell off as the board coasted down the wave face. Then, as I tumbled in the shallows underwater, my foot hit the bottom sideways while the rest of me kept moving. I felt my right ankle bend outwards in slow motion, along with a distinct feeling of disconnection. Was it a bone? A ligament? A tendon? Shit. I needed to get out of the water.

I tried to stand up and couldn’t, so I pushed my board ahead of me to shore and crawled out. I pushed and crawled, pushed and crawled, with a creeping awareness that I was half a mile from the pier, alone, with no phone.

My ankle was swelling up and felt ‘dangly’ when I turned over to sit down. (It’s as off-putting as it sounds.) I stood and managed a few uncertain steps before a wave of nausea and lightheadedness hit—at this rate I’d be back at my car by sunset. I laid down on my board to wait it out until I could start moving again.

The immediate aftermath of a broken ankle

An older man with a metal detector came over and asked if I was okay. My instinct was to say Yep, I’m fine even though I was very much NOT fine.

He offered to carry my board as I limped along, and I accepted. I put light weight on the right foot but still couldn’t accept that I broke my ankle. I did know we weren’t going to make it to the pier anytime soon.

“I just need to lie down for a while,” I told him. “I’ll be okay, thanks for your help!”

He hesitated but allowed me to wave him off, then returned to offer me his phone. I knew my mom was home but the only number I know by heart is Jared’s, so I called him in Atlanta and left a message.

“Hey, I hurt my ankle and I think it’s pretty bad, can you call my mom and ask her to come get me? I’m down the beach south of the pier.”

The man came back a few minutes later with Jared on the phone; we organized for my mom to come and rescue me. Then I laid back on my board to wait.

Once my good samaritan was gone I resumed my march down the beach—she wouldn’t be here for at least 20 minutes and I was going to have to get back to the parking lot somehow. People were starting to stare at me with concern, and an older couple came up to help.

Her husband picked up my board, their dog did excited circles about this new addition to the pack, and off we went. I apologized for my slow pace.

“Honey, you take all the time you need,” the woman said.

After a few arduous minutes, we came to a beach access point. They strongly recommended that we stop here for the husband to go pick up their truck, then drive back and bring me to my car. Again, my initial reaction was to say it’s no trouble, I can make it to the pier.

The wife saw me looking towards the pier, which seemed to be getting farther away. “It’s a pretty long way,” she said.

Her husband was soon back with the truck. As we climbed the stairs (which thankfully had rails) from the beach, a woman power-walked towards us. She assessed the scene and immediately took control.

“STOP” she said. “Don’t put ANY weight on that ankle.”

She came to my other side. “Put all your weight on me. ALL OF IT.”

The two women frogmarched me to the truck. “Now grab that handle and pull yourself in. That’s it! Use those surfer abs!”

I launched into the front seat in my wet swimsuit, leaving sand on every surface I touched.

“Remember!” she said, as she shut the door. “No weight on that ankle.”

A last-minute mushroom shower

When we pulled in to the parking lot behind my car, my mom had just arrived. We got the board back in the car and I said goodbye to my rescuers, then told my mom I had to attempt a shower before we went to urgent care. I refused to spend the next several hours coated in sand.


The showers only ran if you pulled a chain and held it down, which I couldn’t do on one leg. Beyond the showers was a kids’ splash park, with a giant mushroom fountain right in the center. The mushroom was basically a shower.

I hopped aggressively across the splash park, fueled by adrenaline, as children moved to give me a wide berth and their parents watched from the sides with mild alarm. The mushroom shower rinsed off most of the sand so I hopped away, vaguely aware of a sharp pain in my good foot from what I assumed was a rock.

Taking my ankle to urgent care

I put on my fashionable hooded towel and off we went to the urgent care at Flagler hospital. When I hopped in, towel flapping, hair dripping, ankle swelling, the receptionist asked the first question you get at any emergency medical facility in the US: what happened?

Hahaha just kidding! She asked for my insurance information.

Once we got that squared away they brought me a wheelchair and eventually brought me back to see a doctor.

He burst into the room. “Well? How was the surf?” he said, laughing raucously at his joke.

after I broke my ankle in the urgent care, waiting to see a doctor.
At least I was dressed well

After my x-rays, the doctor came in to tell me the news—yes, I broke my ankle. They put my leg in a splint, gave me a pair of crutches, and advised me to schedule an appointment with an orthopedist. After a frustrating back and forth with United Healthcare I found an in-network orthopedist and made an appointment for the following Monday afternoon.

That meant five days in a splint. I always assumed that broken bones needed to be put in a cast right away, but apparently you can just bop around unrestricted. I got back to my parents’ place and took the most awkward bath of my life, finally removing the wet swimsuit and coating the bathtub with enough sand to create a new beach.

Every time I got out of bed or up from the couch I left a small pile of sand behind. That was the hardest part of the first few days, not feeling like I could get clean. I worried I’d go straight from the splint to a cast and immediately began researching waterproof cast covers just in case.

Back to Atlanta with a broken ankle

This all happened while I was in Florida—with our car—but we live in Atlanta and I could no longer drive home. Jared ended up flying to Orlando on Saturday morning, picking up a one-way rental, and driving 2 hours up to St. Augustine so he could drive us back to Atlanta the next day.

I spent several days in Florida with my leg on a stack of pillows, bingeing season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty and feeling bewildered about the whole turn of events. In between episodes I noticed that my good foot was tracking blood, and remembered the rock I’d stepped on during the mushroom shower.

The splint I got after I broke my ankle.
The initial splint

Upon closer inspection I had a small cut on the sole of my foot. I squeezed it (this is a good time to remind you not to take any medical advice from me) and a tiny shard of glass came out! Of my foot! Two days later! Luckily there was no infection and it healed up quickly.

On Sunday I got into the back seat of the Forester with a whole bunch of pillows and a fully-charged kindle for the six-hour drive home.

The orthopedist’s assessment

At this stage I hadn’t even seen an x-ray. The discharge paperwork from the urgent care said I had a minimally displaced distal tibia, but then the x-ray report said it was my fibula. I didn’t even know which bone was broken, so I kept imagining myself hobbling around with a sack of bone shards where my ankle used to be.

I built up a lot of anticipation for the orthopedist appointment, hoping it would answer some questions:

  • How bad is it?
  • Will I get a cast?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • How long will I be in a cast?
  • Can I still go to Boston this weekend?
  • Can I still go to Greece at the end of September?

The orthopedist rolled up a stool and unwrapped my splint to reveal a puffy yellowing foot with a tennis-ball-sized lump on the outside ankle. GROSS. He took my foot in his hands, and to my immense horror started moving it from side to side. He noted the darkening bruise on the inside of the ankle and pressed on it.

“Does it hurt here?”

“No,” I said.

“How about here?”

He pressed into the outside ankle bone and I screamed.


“So that side hurts more,” he said, nodding.

After manipulating the ankle a few more times he pushed back and said I was going to be just fine, then sent me back for another round of x-rays. He wasn’t happy with the ones from the urgent care.

These x-rays showed a broken fibula, the skinny bone on the outside of your leg that runs into the ankle joint. It was not displaced, which means the bones were in the right position.

I get real ‘Rachel can’t see the baby in the ultrasound’ vibes from this

“If the inside bone is broken, surgery. If the back bone is broken, surgery. If the outside bone—your break—is broken, it could mean surgery. Come back in a week and we’ll do more x-rays to see if the ligaments and tendons pull the bone out of place. If the bone doesn’t move, you’re in good shape. If it has, you need surgery and you’re not going to Greece. I’m going to give you a boot. Go to Boston this weekend. Have a good time!”

The boot I got after I broke my ankle. Booted foot is propped up on a grey elevation pillow.
This elevation pillow has been 1000% worth it.

And that was the last I saw of the orthopedist. The nurse fitted me for the boot and told me to weight bear as tolerated, which means put weight on it until I can’t. I still rely on crutches, but the idea is to keep the foot moving and stimulate healing.

I misinterpreted ‘weight bear as tolerated’ as ‘try to walk’ and immediately tried to stand on the foot. It was agony.

“Is it supposed to hurt this much?”

“You broke a bone. It’s going to hurt.”

I spent that whole week being skeptical. Just a boot? Put weight on it? Was this doctor legit? So I did what any normal person would do and obsessively scoured the internet for stories of people who’d broken their ankles and what their recovery was like. Once Dr. Google confirmed my (real, actual) doctor’s instructions I relaxed a little bit.

I broke my ankle, here’s what’s next

We were supposed to go to Boston that weekend for my birthday, but I wasn’t sure it was a great idea. I’ve never been before, and asked my sister what she would do in my shoes given her experience in the city.

“Well, what do you plan on doing there?”

“I dunno, mainly walk around and explore.”

I realized then that Boston wasn’t happening—I had enough trouble getting up off the couch and crutching to the bathroom. We’d booked the hotel and airfare on points so it was easy to cancel, and reluctantly called it off. I spent the rest of the week ordering broken ankle supplies: an elevation pillow, a shower chair, platform sneakers (to match the boot height), and a knee scooter. Happy birthday to me!

Scooting on a knee scooter up the sidewalk in Atlanta after I broke my ankle.
The knee rover’s first (and so far only) outing—a birthday screening of Barbie

My follow-up appointment showed no movement in the ankle, but they can’t give me the official all-clear for surgery until the six-week mark when new bone starts to form. As of now I have clearance to go to Greece, we’re just weighing up whether or not we should. I’ll be five weeks post-break at that time, so I’m going to see how things progress over the next couple of weeks. I’m also investigating the iWalk hands-free crutch in the meantime. If we do go, it seems like my best option for getting around, though I in no way expect a trip like the one we originally planned.

I read a study of how leg/ankle breaks impact mental health, and one of the participants said the worst part was that she couldn’t do what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted. That pretty much sums it up for me; I’m struggling with the abrupt loss of independence (not to mention physical activity) and having to rely on Jared for so much. But I’m also incredibly thankful that I’m in a boot and that I have someone where who can help me out.

I briefly went down an internal rabbit hole of why did I go surfing that day? I almost didn’t go, if only I hadn’t but quickly pulled out of that. These things happen to people all the time, for so many reasons, and I could have tripped on a curb just as easily, or broken my neck instead of my ankle.

Taken four days before The Incident, a much different outcome.

As I write this, I’m only two weeks post break and can see small improvements, though I’m nowhere near weight-bearing. I’ve started documenting the experience on TikTok, and will be writing more here. I found myself hungry for stories from people who have broken their ankles, even though I know everyone’s experience is different, so I’m adding my own in case it’s helpful to someone in a similar predicament.

You will not see pictures of my broken ankle on this site. I personally don’t find it helpful or reassuring to see someone’s foot in its varying stages of healing, nor do I wish to see videos of people actually breaking their ankles, which the TikTok algorithm tried to serve me. No thank you.

I will write about my ankle recovery process, what equipment has been useful, and how the injury impacts things like this trip to Greece. If there’s anything you’d like to know, comment below!

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