By Joseph K. Waltenbaugh     

before I regained my strength and stamina.  When June arrived and I went for my six-month follow-up exam, the X-rays confirmed that everything was as it should be.

Ouch!  That’s my first recollection.  I’m certain it was when they moved me onto the hospital bed.  The searing pain on the right side of my hip let me know that the surgeons had been busy while I was asleep.  It then took a few more hours of mental drifting before I was conscious enough to learn that the device had been successfully implanted.  The device to which I refer is the CONSERVE ® Plus Total Resurfacing Hip System manufactured by Wright Medical Technology, Inc. (

Unfortunately, a volleyball injury followed by 15 years of daily jogging wore away the cartilage in right hip and put me in need this surgery.  So on December 3, 2002, at the ripe old age of 49, I received my first—and hopefully last—prosthetic joint.  Confined to a walker and crutches during my two months of homebound convalescence, I had plenty of time to reflect on my decision to undergo the surgery and to wonder about my future.  Of course, windsurfing played a major role in both.  Prior to the exam, I had feared the worse because I had been experiencing some tenderness and still didn’t have full range of motion in the joint.  I then resigned myself to the fact that it would take an entire year to completely recovery.  At that point I decided to give up on the idea of windsurfing until the following summer.  My pre-surgery hip pain had prevented my windsurfing in the prior two years, but at least now there was hope I could do it next summer.  As it happened, I had arranged to vacation in Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina right after my six-month exam.
It is an alternative to a total hip replacement.  (You know, the thing that makes your grandfather walk funny.)  Hip resurfacing is being done on younger, more active patients as part of an FDA sponsored study.  Since I met the “youth” requirement (anyone under sixty is considered young) and was also a windsurfer, I was accepted into the study. 

"Since I met the 'youth' requirement . . . and was also a windsurfer . . . I was accepted into the study."

For years I had gone to North Carolina with friends who spent their time on the beach while I windsurfed in Roanoke Sound.  The windsurfing in Nags Head was always some of the best I’d experience all summer.  Unfortunately, I’d be spending this year on the beach with my friends and their children. Somehow it wouldn’t be the same.
The total hip replacements most people receive have some unfortunate drawbacks, such as the tendency to dislocate at the most inopportune moments—like halfway through a radical duck jibe.  People with total hip replacements are advised to avoid “severe bending and twisting.”  Severe bending and twisting?  What is windsurfing but severe bending and twisting?   I was one of the first windsurfers in my area in 1980.  There were no dealers in western Pennsylvania at that time, so my first board was purchased from a guy selling them out of his garage in Ohio.  It was the only board on the market at the time: Hoyle Schweitzer’s and Jimmy Drake’s original Windsurfer™ complete with teak wood booms and the old “blue noodle” mast.

The day before I left for the Outer Banks, I was stirred into action.  Be it courage or stupidity, I marched into my garage, dug out my Unisport ™ racks, and secured them to the roof of my car along with my fiberglass board.  I then gathered up all my old sails and antiquated equipment and threw everything into the car.  Even if I couldn’t windsurf, I could ride around with the board on the car and once again feel like a part of the windsurfing community. 


Hip resurfacing is supposed to eliminate that problem because it provides a larger, more stable prosthetic joint similar to a real hip joint. 

Over the years I purchased other boards, and I eventually settled on a custom fiberglass design as my standard board.  Most of my other equipment, however, remains a collection of cannibalized pieces dating back to my first Windsurfer™.  When your hip starts to deteriorate, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to purchase new high tech sails and equipment. 

My recovery from the surgery was much slower and more difficult than I had anticipated, and months passed

As you might guess, I didn’t just ride around with the board.  Within a day, I made a beeline for the beach at Jockey’s Ridge State Park where I stood gauging the wind and contemplating my life as a windsurfer.  It was very reminiscent of my first day of windsurfing over two decades ago, and it produced some of the same emotional uncertainty.

Normally, there would have been a lot of families on the beach, but it was raining slightly, so no one else was there.  That gave me the solitude 


I needed to accomplish this monumental task.  It also provided a hint of danger since there would be no one around to help if this whole thing turned into a tragic mistake.  Besides the rain, it was a cool day, so I wore a pair of neoprene shorts and a sleeveless neoprene top.  I would have worn the neoprene shorts regardless of the weather because the tight fit helped support my hip.  I had purchased the shorts a few years earlier and always wore them when windsurfing.  I called them my “Ace bandage for hips.”

There was a steady fifteen-knot wind blowing that day.  I chose the smallest sail I had—a five-meter slalom sail—because I didn’t want to risk injury to my new hip by being overpowered if the wind kicked up.  When engaging in risky business, it’s often a good idea to error on the side of caution—except when caution tells you that you shouldn’t be out there in the first place.  Up until that moment, I had been telling myself that it had been six months, and my implant should already be well anchored.   I had lost the ability to beach start or water start years earlier because of pain and loss of rotation in the joint.  Whether I was in 20 feet or two inches of water, I had to up-haul the sail.  Now, three years later, I was curious to see if I could again beach and water start.  But before I tried either one, I needed to see what it would be like to up-haul the sail.  

Even though the water depths in Roanoke Sound average from knee to waist height across most of the sound, there are pockets of deeper water.  

I had last windsurfed on Roanoke Sound three years earlier, and simply carrying the sail and board to the water had been enough to inflame my hip.  This time I performed the feat without a problem.  The first real hurdle I faced was not one I had anticipated.  

"In hip resurfacing circles . . . we talk of implant 'failure.'"

If I ended up in one of those pockets, I needed to know I could up-haul the sail in the event I couldn’t water start.  But before I could even think about up-hauling the sail, I first had to get up on the board.  That presented me with the biggest challenge of the day.
Foot protection is required because of the oysters in the sound, but I could not bend over or raise my leg high enough to put the surf shoe on the foot of my operative leg.  Up until that moment, I had been feeling very positive, but the shoe quandary took some of the wind out of my sails.    

But as I began pulling the sail and board into the water, I began wondering if six months was long enough for the bone to grow around the implant to secure it.      

A crouching position with a total hip replacement can be dangerous.  With hip resurfacing, it is just difficult—and trying to rise from a crouched position is even more difficult.  In about three feet of water, I pretended that I was in deep water, and I attempted to crawl onto the board and stand up.  
How was I going to perform delicate windsurfing moves—not to mention climbing up on the board—when I couldn’t even put on my shoe?  I improvised and solved the problem through a series of bizarre contortions.  Unfortunately, the whole shoe business left me with doubts about my windsurfing endeavor.

After three unsuccessful attempts resulting in dramatic falls, I managed to do it.  My technique wasn’t pretty, but it proved effective.  My board has 130 liters of displacement, and I’m about 155 pounds, so up-hauling is possible but a little unstable.  It’s even more unstable when you try to do it with one good leg.  But once I was able to stand erect on the board, up-hauling was a breeze.


Not only was up-hauling a breeze, but beach starting proved just as easy.  Before I knew it, I was streaking across the water like I had never missed a day windsurfing.  It was fabulous!  Five months earlier I wondered if I’d ever walk again, and there I was slicing my way out into Roanoke Sound.  Since I wasn’t sure how successful I’d be at tacking or jibing, I decided to turn around before I ventured too far away from the shoreline.  Because it seemed too risky, I was careful not to hook the foot of my operative leg into the foot strap.  I had visions of my body being twisted and slammed down onto the water, wrenching and dislocating the hip because my foot was stuck in the foot strap.  The implanted hip had shown that it could withstand windsurfing, but I’m not sure it could withstand a body plant if I was unable to quickly disengage from the foot strap and harness.  The whole thing lasted only a second, and it culminated in my falling forward into the sail as I crashed down onto the water.  Once in the water, I quickly unhooked the harness and tried to determine what had happened.

No pain.  That was good sign.  No bones or metal objects protruding through my skin.  An even better sign.  I could still move my leg.  A great sign.  So what happened?

I was on a starboard tack with my operative leg forward, so I applied pressure to that leg in order to bury the rail.  Everything clicked, and the board carved out a nice tight jibe.  Yeah!  The hip responded beautifully too.  Sailing back to shore, I tried a quick tack, and it went just as smoothly.  I was back! In hip resurfacing circles—as well as with other joint replacements—we talk of implant “failure.”  A failure could be a loosing of the implant as it dislodges from the bone, or it could be a fracturing or splintering of the bone caused by the implant stem breaking through.  

"I had been on the water about an hour when the failure occurred."

The next exhilarating hour was spent enjoying the wind and my newfound freedom as I tried to regain my past form.  The artificial hip caused a little clumsiness in some of my movements, and on more than one occasion I was sent tumbling into the water.  Instead of fighting the falls, I relented and rolled gracefully into the salty water.  On two occasions I was dumped in slightly deeper water, and that gave me the chance to attempt a couple water starts.   Whatever the cause, it spells trouble.  It also instills fear in the hearts of implant recipients because it means undergoing revision surgery with all the dreadful pain and recovery that accompany it.  Many live their lives carefully so as to not risk any kind of implant failure.  Then there are those who go windsurfing six months after surgery.

Being part of the latter group, I had been on the water about an hour when the failure occurred.

I think it was corrosion and years of use in a wet and often salty environment that caused it.  It’s true; I had experienced a “failure,” but it was a failure of my windsurfing equipment and not my prosthetic joint.  

The bolt and metal plate of the universal joint of my mast base had torn free under the strain.  Not only that, when the mast base ripped free, the jagged metal of the broken component cut a nice long groove across the bright yellow fiberglass of my board.  

Despite my doubts at the time, I managed to execute both of them; however, they were clumsily performed and my technique left much to be desired.  It didn’t matter though.  It had been more than three years since I executed a water start, and regardless of how it looked, it felt wonderful as I rose from the water. I’m not sure what really caused it.  It could have been metal fatigue or just a bad component.  I first became aware that something was wrong through a sudden change in equilibrium followed by a forward lurch.  This lurch was accompanied by a sharp metallic “snap” and a dreadful scraping sound. As bad as it looked, it somehow seemed fitting.  Now we both had ten-inch scars up our starboard sides attesting to our past misfortunes.

That pretty well ended my windsurfing experience for the day.  I had spare mast bases, but I decided not to press my luck.  It was almost as if God had said, “That’s enough for today, son.”


I achieved what I had come to do, and I proved to myself that there was definitely life—and windsurfing—after hip resurfacing.  There would be other days and plenty of windsurfing tomorrows.       
"It was almost as if God had said, 'That’s enough for today, son.'"            
As I dragged the board and broken rig back to the beach, I couldn’t help but smile.  I had come a long way since 1980, and I had windsurfed in a lot of exotic locations, but none of them could compare with that particular beach on that particular day.  
Despite all the pain and doubts I had experience before and after surgery, I was back on the water doing what I loved.  The weather was still overcast and rainy, but the sun was shining all around me.  
To me it all seemed a miracle.  Perhaps it was.

Besides windsurfing and sailing larger boats, Mr. Waltenbaugh manages the web site where he provides additional information about hip resurfacing.


Copyright © 2003 Joseph K. Waltenbaugh

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