In 2010, Grant Korgan, a world-class adventurer, nanoscientist and professional athlete, suffered a tragic snowmobiling accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Determined to stay focused and positive, Korgan embarked on a new journey — one that has brought him to the top of his game in seven sports, including sit-down surfing and hydrofoiling.
What happened that day on Sonora Pass?
We were making a movie. It was a powder day in my favorite place, and then the best day of snowmobiling turned into the worst. The second I left the lip, I knew I’d overshoot and land on the flats. I knew I’d break bones. I came in about 2 feet past the transition point, and when I hit, it was Armageddon above the belly button. Below … nothing. I couldn’t feel anything. It was the biggest nightmare of my life. And that’s where my journey began.
What kept you motivated after the accident?
My wife, Shauna. I was a newlywed husband, I had found my soul mate — but four months later, I was in a helicopter, and half of what she married was gone. I promised her a life of love and adventure, and what mattered most to me was that she live the life I promised her. I figured this was like having flat tires — if you’re late for something, you’ll drive anyway. Well, I’d knocked my entire back axle off, but I was going to get there! There were a million exits off the recovery highway, but we held that space, even if it was blind faith.
Did you ever doubt that you could still have an adventurous life?
When it seems you’re facing the impossible, reality can overwhelm you. Or you can believe without stopping that paralysis will not control you. I was still the same person, and I wanted to be on a journey of happiness, empowerment and positivity.
How did your recovery unfold?
You’ll dig this. Two years after my injury, I went from a wheelchair to a walker to forearm crutches. I also had the honor of being the first spinal-cord-injured athlete to ski 80 miles to the South Pole, which we documented in The Push: A South Pole Adventure.
When did you start hydrofoiling?
My friend Duncan Lee, who is a visionary, said it was time to get out there. I was hesitant but wanting. I’d always wanted to try hydrofoiling, and I have a full-blown love of boats. Finally, on my birthday, I popped up and was riding, going fast, feeling the exposure and excitement, all those visceral experiences. Boating is absolute freedom. So, Sky Ski got me the gear, Rod Brock said, ‘I’ll pull you,’ and they put me on their pro team of riders.
You’re also a sit-down wakesurfer. How did that come about? At the 2013 Water Sports Industry Association conference, GoPro brought me in as its speaker, and in the audience was Rick Lee from Centurion Boats, Duncan’s father. Rick is an amazing developer and engineer, and it all just flew together. Six months later, we had a prototype behind a FS44 center console on Lake Tahoe. Rick was on a Jet Ski, holding me. The rope gets taut, Duncan hammers the throttle, and it’s totally working! It’s full-on, and I’m surfing. I’m crying, tears are running down Shauna’s face. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
What has this meant for you?
Boating has been so relevant in my second life. It’s hard to put into words. Wheelchairs, crutches — every move is so strategic and slow. With a boat, I get to leave the apparatus behind. I also get to leave behind the issues, the challenges, the struggles. I get to stand on water! It’s the happiest point in human experience, and I want to tell the world that, from the mountaintops.
The California lifestyle brand BigTruck sponsored your 2016 Centurion FS44 team boat. What was last year like?
2016 was go time. It was all dialed in. I was doing inverts on the hydrofoil, spins behind the boat on the sit-surfer, training and working toward Worlds. It was a heart-fulfilling summer. One day, I was on the boat with Rick and his family, and I said it had been one of the best summers of my life. Then I realized what I’d just said.
What continues to inspire you?
I want to get people stoked on boating and set the fun factor to 10. I want people to join me, laugh with me, share with me what’s blowing my mind. And I want to always express gratitude to those who were there and who shared their gifts when I couldn’t get out of bed. So many people shining so much light. I want to give back.