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Episode 6: Le surfeur sans limites (The Surfer Without Limits)

By Duolingo on Tue 30 Jul 2019

Eric Dargent devoted his life to surfing — the bigger the waves, the better. He wouldn’t let anything get in the way of his passion, not even a life-altering shark attack. After losing half of his leg, he set out to pursue a new dream, for himself and countless others.

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Ngofeen: In 2011, Eric Dargent planned to move his entire family 6,000 miles from the French Riviera to La Réunion, a French island in the middle of the Indian Ocean… just so he could discover bigger, better waves.

Eric: Je suis parti en vacances sur l’île de La Réunion, avec ma femme et mes enfants. Je pensais qu'on pourrait aller vivre là-bas, si on aimait l'endroit.

Ngofeen: One sunny morning, he was paddling for a wave and all of a sudden he felt a sharp tug on his leg.

Eric: J’attendais une dernière vague pour rentrer sur la plage, quand j’ai senti ça. Pour un surfeur, c'est l'horreur.

Ngofeen: He realized it was a shark.

Eric: J’ai vraiment pensé : « Je vais mourir. »

Ngofeen: Bienvenue and welcome to the Duolingo French Podcast — I’m your host Ngofeen Mputubwele. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories to help you improve your French listening and gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate French and I will be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again — and we also offer full transcripts at

Ngofeen: A quick warning, this episode includes an account of a traumatic injury that some may find intense. So please listen at your own discretion.

Ngofeen: Eric always lived by the sea. He was born in Martigues, a small town on the French Riviera, west of Marseille. It is a rocky coastline on the Mediterranean, dotted with tiny beaches, where the sand is soft and the water is clear.

Eric: La mer a toujours fait partie de ma vie. À sept ans, j’ai eu ma première planche de surf. Rapidement, je voulais une seule chose. Faire du surf. Après les cours, je retournais dans l’eau. C’est devenu ma passion.

Ngofeen: Eric built his life around surfing. He even chose to become a nurse in part because it allowed him to schedule his shifts around his surf sessions.

Eric: J’ai choisi le métier d’infirmier parce que j’aimais aider les gens, mais aussi parce que je voulais avoir le temps de faire du surf, le matin ou l’après-midi. Je voulais pouvoir surfer quand il y avait de belles vagues.

Ngofeen: But Eric wanted to hunt for bigger and better waves, so he decided to check out the French island of La Réunion, east of Madagascar. He’d go for a few weeks with his wife and their two children and see if they wanted to move there.

Eric: J’avais surfé pendant plus d’une semaine à La Réunion. Nous aimions tous cet endroit. Ma femme, mes enfants et moi. On commençait vraiment à penser pouvoir vivre là-bas.

Ngofeen: But La Réunion, is also known for having sharks, or requins.

Eric: Je savais qu’il y avait des requins, mais il n’y avait pas eu d’accidents sur la côte sud-ouest de l’île. Alors j’ai pensé : « Pas de problème. » J’ai pris ma planche de surf, et je suis allé surfer aux Roches Noires.

Ngofeen: On February 19th, 2011, Eric went surfing at a spot called Roches Noires. After two hours, he was ready to catch a wave back to shore. He sat on his board, his legs dangling in the water, unaware a shark was swimming underneath.

Eric: Ça a été très rapide. Le requin a attrapé ma jambe. J’ai juste eu le temps d’essayer de me défendre. J’ai frappé le requin, et il est parti. J’ai commencé à retourner vers la plage en ramant. Une vague est arrivée, et j’ai regardé derrière moi.

Ngofeen: His left leg was gone. The shark had bitten it off just above the knee. At that moment, Eric thought he might die, right there on his board. It wasn’t a hard or painful thought. Just a realization — this might be it. The moment to let go.

Eric: Mourir. C’était une pensée presque douce. Mais j’ai pensé à ma famille, à ma femme et à mes enfants qui étaient sur la plage. Je les imaginais ensemble, en train de m’attendre. Alors j’ai continué. Je me suis accroché à ma planche de surf. J’ai essayé d’aller vers la plage. Vers ma famille.

Ngofeen: Eric redoubled his efforts to paddle to shore, to catch a wave. Then he got lucky. Two nearby surfers saw him and came to help. They quickly applied a tourniquet and brought him to shore.

Eric: Ma femme est venue à côté de moi. Elle criait et pleurait. C’était horrible. Personne ne peut se préparer à vivre ça.

Ngofeen: Eric didn’t feel any pain yet, because of the adrenaline coursing through his body. So even after losing so much blood and in the midst of such a chaotic scene, he remained strangely lucid.

Eric: C’était difficile, mais je répétais à ma femme : « Je veux continuer à faire des choses, je veux continuer à voyager, je veux continuer à vivre. »

Ngofeen: And in that moment on the beach, Eric made a surprising request to his wife. When the other surfers brought him to the shore, they had left his board in the water.

Eric: J’ai dit à ma femme d’aller chercher ma planche de surf. Je lui ai dit : « Un jour, je recommencerai à surfer. »

Ngofeen: Within twenty minutes of the attack, the firemen, les pompiers, arrived on the beach. When he saw them, something changed in Eric. He relaxed a little. It didn’t help though.

Eric: Quand les pompiers sont arrivés, je me suis relaxé. La tension a quitté mon corps. C’est à ce moment-là que j’ai senti la douleur. C’était terrible.

Ngofeen: Eric remained in the hospital for three weeks, then he looked for a rehab center. But he couldn’t imagine his life without surfing. The doctors tried to reason with him. Without the knee, surfing would be impossible. There just wasn’t a prosthesis that would permit him to use his leg in that way.

Eric: Les docteurs m’ont dit : « Faire du surf ne sera pas possible. C’est une question d’équilibre. Personne ne peut continuer à faire du surf après un accident comme ça. »

Ngofeen: To Eric, this was almost a death sentence. So he went back to Martigues with his family and went from doctor to doctor until he found a rehab center and a prosthetist who gave him what he needed: a little bit of hope.

Eric: Il m’a dit : « Je ne sais pas ce que tu es capable de faire, mais je ferai tout pour t’aider. » Et c’était incroyable. Il ne me promettait pas une chose impossible, mais il ne me disait pas « non ». Alors je pouvais me projeter dans l’avenir et me dire : « Tu peux y arriver. »

Ngofeen: With his new hope, Eric decided he would do all that he could to get back on his board. First he had to get back in the water. He spent two months in rehab and when his surgeon gave him the go-ahead, Eric took his crutches and made his way to the beach.

Eric: Je me souviens. Quand je suis allé dans l’eau pour la première fois après l’accident, je flottais. Mon corps ne sentait plus la force de la gravité. J’avais l’impression de retrouver ma jambe. C’était incroyable.

Ngofeen: That first time, he just floated. But it was enough to motivate him to keep going. As he relearned to walk, he would relearn to surf. Before getting in the water, he’d remove his prosthesis he used on land. Then he’d lie on his board with his belly and try to glide like he used to.

Eric: Revenir dans l’eau m’a donné de la force. C’était un plaisir différent de celui que je connaissais avant. Je me sentais fier de pouvoir transcender mon handicap. Cela me donnait de la motivation pour aller plus loin. J’avais besoin de ça.

Ngofeen: But Eric struggled with his new body. He had lost his identity. He couldn’t get back to work as a nurse just yet, and he had lost the athletic ability that had always defined him. But the hardest part was how people saw him.

Eric: Le regard des autres est compliqué. Tout le monde me regardait : des inconnus, mais aussi ma femme, mes enfants. Ce regard, c’est une chose très, très difficile.

Ngofeen: Eric felt he had to push himself, to try and go beyond his disability. To regain control and pride in himself.

Eric: Je voulais continuer à vivre comme avant, avec ma famille, mon travail d’infirmier, et le surf. Je ne pouvais pas imaginer ma vie sans surfer. Je devais réussir à tenir debout sur une planche de surf.

Ngofeen: At the time, there were no prosthetics, or prothèses, for athletes who had been amputated above the knee, or genou. At least not one that was water-resistant and could withstand strong athletic motion.

Eric: Je voulais créer une prothèse pour faire du surf. Une prothèse du pied au genou, pour nager dans l’eau de mer, surfer sur une belle vague, être debout sur une planche de surf, trouver mon équilibre et glisser sur l’eau.

Ngofeen: But to do that, he knew he needed support. Luckily, Eric was well known in the surfing community, and his accident and rescue had been a big deal. So surfers rallied around him. Many people reached out to help.

Eric: La communauté des surfeurs est forte. On passe la grande majorité du temps à nager, en attendant une vague. Alors on discute avec les autres. Le surfeur peut être infirmier, boulanger, ou chef d’entreprise. On se connaît, parce qu’on partage une passion.

Ngofeen: Professional surfers donated their surfboards to help fundraise and nonprofits working with amputees also reached out to give him hope. Soon, Eric wanted to give back too, so a cousin helped him set up a nonprofit to get amputees like him on surfboards.

Eric: Très rapidement, j’ai voulu aider les gens. Ceux qui étaient amputés, comme moi. Je me sentais mieux grâce au surf, et je voulais la même chose pour tous ceux qui en avaient besoin.

Ngofeen: And that’s when Eric was introduced to another amputee from southern France, Patrice Barattero. Patrice was hard at work on a sport prosthesis of his own.

Eric: Rencontrer Patrice a tout changé. On partageait beaucoup de choses ensemble. Notre handicap. Mais principalement notre passion pour le sport. La passion de Patrice, c’était le rollerblade. Mais après un accident de moto, il a perdu sa jambe au-dessus du genou.

Ngofeen: At 29, Patrice’s left leg was amputated above the knee, just like Eric. After the surgery, Patrice could no longer rollerblade, but he thought he might be able to snowboard, with the right prosthetic knee. That’s when he started developing a winter-sport prosthesis.

Eric: J’ai dit à Patrice que je voulais avoir un genou pour le surf. Une prothèse légère et solide, qui résiste au sel de la mer. On a décidé de travailler ensemble. On voulait prendre la prothèse de ski qu’il avait créée, et l’adapter pour le surf.

Ngofeen: Eric and Patrice partnered up. They contacted a school that taught its students how to cast metal. The school agreed to fabricate the parts they designed as part of their students’ training. Then Eric took their prototypes to the water. It involved a lot of falling.

Eric: Je me souviens des premiers moments dans l’eau, avec les premières versions de la prothèse. J’ai essayé de très nombreuses fois de me tenir debout sur la planche. C’était très dur. Il y avait beaucoup de sensations. De l’espoir, de l’irritation. Je tombais tout le temps.

Ngofeen: But each time Eric fell in the water, he got even more motivated to improve the prosthesis. He and Patrice tested and tinkered with the first prototype for months.

Eric: Je prenais ma planche et ma prothèse, et je nageais vers les vagues. J’essayais de prendre une vague, mais je ne pouvais pas trouver mon équilibre. Je tombais à chaque fois.

Ngofeen: But one afternoon, right before he was going to call it a day, Eric saw a wave coming, and he thought he’d give it one more try.

Eric: Je me souviens de la première fois où j’ai réussi à surfer sur une vague avec un prototype de notre prothèse. J’attendais dans l’eau avec les autres surfeurs. Puis une belle vague est arrivée. Je me suis positionné, et j’ai sauté sur la planche.

Ngofeen: This time, when he popped up on his board, Eric swivelled his left leg forward and his left knee held strong. Crouching, he kept bent at the waist and caught his balance. For the first time since the shark attack, Eric stood on his board and glided across the water.

Eric: Je ne suis pas resté debout longtemps, mais c’était le début d’une nouvelle aventure. J’ai enfin retrouvé la sensation que j’adorais depuis le début : glisser. Et je voulais continuer. Finir la prothèse nous a pris deux ans et demi.

Ngofeen: The knee Eric and Patrice developed is called the Easyride prosthesis. It incorporates shock absorbers from pro mountain bikes, which mimic the flexion and extension surfers depend on from a regular knee to catch a wave. People can also use it to ski and snowboard downhill.

Eric: Patrice et moi, nous voulions faire une prothèse multisport, pour aider différentes personnes à vivre leur passion. Parfois, on voit des personnes qui utilisent notre prothèse dans des sports que je ne fais pas, comme le karaté, ou bien l’escalade.

Ngofeen: Once they’d managed to create the prosthesis, they focused on bringing down its cost so it could be affordable. This was important to Eric because he wanted to extend the dream of gliding through space to all amputees.

Eric: Quand on pense à un amputé, un handicapé, on ne pense pas toujours au sport. Mais il y a beaucoup de possibilités pour les handicapés dans le sport. Le sport nous encourage à dépasser nos limites, à toujours aller plus loin. Le sport, c’est la meilleure thérapie.

Ngofeen: So Eric threw himself into his nonprofit, which he named L’Association Surfeurs Dargent. He worked to open people’s eyes to the healing benefits of surfing. He planned events with local rehab centers, and recent amputees would come to the beach while volunteers would outfit them with prosthetic knees.

Eric: Je voulais que les gens essaient. Même s’ils avaient peur. Je me souviens d’un jeune homme amputé qui est venu à un de nos événements. Il pensait que c’était juste impossible d’aller dans l’eau, comme ça.

Ngofeen: But at the event, Eric convinced the young man to give it a try. Eric knew that surfing, being in nature could have a healing effect on him, both physically and emotionally.

Eric: C’était il y a trois ans. Maintenant, ce jeune homme est un surfeur passionné. C’était incroyable de le voir prendre du plaisir, et de le voir progresser si rapidement.

Ngofeen: Things have changed since the days doctors tried to convince Eric that he could never surf again. Through his example and the prowess of other athletes and recent scientific research, the medical community has come to see the healing possibilities of sports.

Eric: Maintenant, je peux surfer des vagues. Pas des grosses vagues de dix mètres, mais je peux surfer des vagues de trois ou quatre mètres. Et je veux continuer à surfer pour montrer que même après un accident comme ça, c’est possible d’aller vers ses rêves.

Ngofeen: Eric is back in the water, and back to the sport and community he loves. Surfing helped him heal, so he keeps looking for ways to share that healing power with all amputees — even people who have never surfed before. He wants to inspire others to see their lives with new hope.

Eric: Tout le monde peut apprendre à surfer. Et voir quelqu’un commencer à surfer pour la première fois, découvrir ce plaisir, avoir de la confiance en soi, c’est un sentiment très fort.

Ngofeen: Eric Dargent continues to live, work and surf in Martigues. He has turned para-athlete and in 2019 he became the European champion of Handisurf. 10% of the profits from the prosthetic knees Eric and Patrice created go back to their nonprofit organizations: L’Association Surfeurs Dargent and ANICES. You can find links to the organizations on our website.

Ngofeen: This story was produced by Lory Martinez, a radio journalist based in Paris.

This is our last episode of the season. We’d love to know what you thought! Send us an email with your feedback at or share your thoughts in a review on Apple Podcasts. If you liked the stories, please share them! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode.

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The Duolingo French Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

This season, our senior editor was Julia Scott and our editor was Natacha Ruck. Mixers and sound designers were Martine Chaussard and Samia Bouzid. Our assistant editor was Abigail Murta. Our production manager and mastering engineer was Luis Gil. Our executive producer was Martina Castro.

I’m your host, Ngofeen Mputubwele, à la prochaine!


This episode includes recordings from Speedenza, keng-wai-chane-chick-te, reinsamba, Sandermotions under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Protagonist & Narrator: Eric Dargent
Scriptwriter: Lory Martinez
Senior Editor: Julia Scott
Editor: Natacha Ruck
Sound Designer: Martine Chaussard
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Luis Gil
Executive Producer: Martina Castro