Nigel Marsden describes his near-death kite surfing experience. Photo by Jamie Troughton.

Survival story: a near-death kite surfing experience


Water has featured prominently in many pivotal moments of Nigel Marsden’s life. 

The Mount Maunganui resident grew up next to some of New Zealand’s best beaches and went on to raise a family on an ocean-front property. He has forged careers and new ventures from water-based activities and has travelled the globe pursuing a passion for water sports. 

While many happy memories were made on and near the water, so too were some of Nigel’s darkest moments. In 2003 he nearly died while kite surfing when he was picked up a freak gust of wind and pummelled against the side of his own house. 

“Quite soon after the impact of the accident, I was in a dream-like state and had what feels like a very vivid dream of being in a river,” Nigel recalls. “I was being pulled into blackness, which felt like death, and first of all, I recall feeling content with that.”

Nigel Marsden loves being in or on the water.

Nigel Marsden loves being in or on the water. Photo by Jamie Troughton.

It was subconsciously hearing the voice of his eldest daughter, aged ten at the time, that gave Nigel the strength to fight his way ‘upstream’. “I recall her telling me, ‘I’m not ready to have no daddy’. And that gave me the desire to fight the stream; I wanted to live. It was very, very powerful.”

The accident happened at the home he shared with his two young daughters, now aged 29 and 22, in the small coastal village of Pōhara, at the top of the South Island. One spring day, Nigel decided to go for a spin on his kiteboard.

With a career running a sea kayak business, a fundamental part of Nigel’s job was analysing wind speeds but that day – during the Equinox season – he was caught out.

After about half an hour in the water, the wind was ironically too light, so Nigel decided to head back to shore. He doesn’t remember much of what happened next, only a “massive pulling feeling” and hearing a nearby friend scream as a strong and unexpected wind gust pulled his kite – and Nigel, who was still attached to it – through the air, over the beach and the esplanade reserve, over the tress on his front lawn and straight into the side of his house. 

Nigel Marsden is lucky to have survived a freak kite surfing accident.

Nigel Marsden is lucky to have survived a freak kite surfing accident. Photo by Jamie Troughton.

He slammed into the eaves of the house, fell onto a gate, and bounced onto the lawn – a total distance of approximately 70 metres. To have cleared the trees, Nigel estimates his height to have been over five metres and he hit his house at between 60 to 80km/h. 

It was while lying lifeless on his lawn, with a multitude of injuries including fractures to his pelvis, shoulder, ribs, and punctures to his lung, not to mention concussion and shock, that Nigel’s daughter’s words came to him. 

“It gave me a mission in life: I knew I wanted to help people. And I wanted to be there for my daughters. That’s how I was able to get to that light. That gave me the energy to choose life.” 

Nigel, who went on to have two more children, doesn’t describe himself as a particularly spiritual person, but his near-death experience, accident and subsequent years of rehabilitation have been a gift. The experience gave him a renewed vigour for life. He’s also stuck to his word about helping people – by sharing his love for the ocean.

Today, Nigel Marsden shares his love of the ocean with others.

Today, Nigel Marsden shares his love of the ocean with others on Ocean Swim Holidays. Photo by Jamie Troughton.

In 2022, he launched Ocean Swim Holidays with friend and fellow water enthusiast Steve Morris. Next year they will lead their inaugural swimming excursions in The Coromandel and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. The idea is to share and support ocean swimming adventures with safety equipment and guides, providing the chance to enjoy new territories, from a fish-eye perspective, with like-minded travellers.


Story by Monica Tischler for the Spring 2023 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Monica Tischler is the Deputy Editor for AA Directions Magazine.

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