To renowned surf photographer Ray Collins the ocean is his life, his livelihood and playground, but it is also "brutal".
It's been a month now since Collins was bodyboarding at a secret break off the northern Illawarra (on January 22) and a small hesitation nearly cost him his life.
Ironically, it's the same break he credits with getting his surf photography career off the ground and a break he has been visiting since being a teen.
"As I was paddling my hand accidentally clashed with another surfer's head or shoulder, I instinctively stopped and turned to apologise," he said.
"The pause in positioning meant I was at the top of the wave instead of underneath it."
I was just getting absolutely thrashed around by these mountains of white water, thinking 'f***, when is this going to be over?'Ray Collins
It was his first and last wave of the session, "dead on low tide", with the barrel sucking him up and spitting him out over the lip and driving him chest first into "pretty much dry reef".
Collins is thankful he didn't land on his head or his spine, describing the altercation as "brutal" and "violent" and left him with four broken left ribs and a perforated lung.
"I was pretty banged up," he told the Mercury.
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On trying to surface, thoughts of survival began running through his head and "how bad is this?" But as soon as he locked eyes with his mate Jackson Forbes waiting nearby on a jetski, he knew he would somehow be ok.
"I remember when I came up, I could hear what sounded like a wounded animal and I didn't realise it was coming from my own mouth," Collins said.
"Then two more waves hit me and I was just getting absolutely thrashed around by these mountains of white water, thinking 'f***, when is this going to be over?'."
He was taken to the boat ramp where he rang his wife Amber to tell her he was hurt, but this time he needed a hospital and quickly.
"From the moment it happened to 12 days later it felt like it was just one long unbroken day of pain," Collins said.
Collins has been "rehabbing" at Wombarra ocean pool to assist recovery and reacquaint himself the salt water and its crashing sounds of heavy waves.
On Monday he pushed anxiety aside and finally went for his first real swim at Thirroul and by surrounding himself with the rhythm and flow of the deep blue it "felt like home again".
It will be at least three months until doctors allow Collins to lie on a board, so swimming will do for now.
The downtime has also prompted him to upskill his photography and video skills to take his business further.
"Everything is a lesson, you either win or you learn," Collins said.
"Everything I have is from the ocean - I met my wife through it, we run the business from it and my whole life revolves around it.
"It's like this huge savings account that I just fill and sometimes I've got to pay tax on it, and that's what those times out of the ocean are."