Last Sunday, a freak thunderstorm hit Venice Beach, just a stone’s throw away from the VICE office in Los Angeles. The bolts struck more than a dozen people, and one young man was killed. About 50 people in the United States die from lightning each year, but rarely in southern California, where lightning storms are an oddity; only five people have died from lightning in California since 2005.
We wanted to find out what it feels like to be struck by lightning (and survive), so we asked Stuart Archer, who was among the victims of the Venice Beach lightning storm this weekend.
VICE: So, what were you doing on Sunday, before the lightning struck?
Stuart Archer: I was playing volleyball. It was sort of an overcast day, and then out of nowhere, it got black out. It was really ominous. Before I knew it, there was a huge boom explosion sound, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lightning bolt shoot down into the water and a huge flash right in front of my face.
And that was the lightning. What did it feel like?
It felt like someone punched me in the back of my head. There was kind of a shock down my body and then my whole body locked up and I got thrown to the ground. It wasn’t fun. I would not recommend it.
Did it burn at all?
No, no burning. There are no marks on my body. It was more like.... You know when you get punched? Or, wait, maybe you don’t.
Yeah, not really.
Well, if you’ve ever been knocked out, there’s a lot of pain. But there wasn’t any pain. It was just the shock of being hit really hard and then that was it. Then my head was buzzing, as if I had a really bad cold that made me almost lightheaded. That’s how I still feel, actually. They say it should get better within a few days, and I’m going in for a full physical tomorrow, but no one really knows.
When people get struck by lightning in cartoons, I feel like their hair always sticks straight up. Did that happen to you?
No. It didn’t do any of that stuff. I didn’t, like, see my skeleton for a second or convulse on the floor. But I’m pretty sure I can travel through time now, which is pretty cool.
I mean, we’ve actually already had this conversation. I’ve already been through it, but I just wanted to relive it again because it was so lovely.
Photo by Flickr user Andrew Malone
So what did you do after the lightning hit?
I went back to playing volleyball.
Wait. You got struck by lightning, you fell to the floor, and then you were like, ‘This seems like a good time to play volleyball’?
I have to tell you, I gave the best serve of my life in that game. I literally did not lose a game of volleyball for the rest of the day.
Powered by lightning.
Exactly. I mean, look: I literally had a moment where I was sitting there and watching the chaos on the beach and, of course, this is before we knew that anybody passed away. I went to the paramedics there, they checked me out and recommended that I go to the hospital, and I was like, ‘Really? I feel fine. I’m a little buzzed, but I feel fine.’ The craziest thing about it was that if you watch the news footage from that day, it starts out in bright sunshine. The whole thing is in bright sunshine! Five to ten minutes after I got hit by lightning, there was not a cloud in the sky. It was bright blue, the sun was out, it wasn’t like some storm rolled in. It was just gone. When I saw that, I looked at the ambulance and I was like, I could go there, and then I looked at the volleyball court where it was gorgeous and sunny, and I was like, I could go there. If I’m going to die, I want to go out having fun. So that’s why I went to play.
I am doing a full physical tomorrow, so hopefully I won’t have a horrible follow-up story to tell you.
Have you felt any residual effects from the lightning?
Right now I’m a little sore. My neck is sore and my muscles are sore, almost as if I got into a car accident. My head is sort of lightheaded, like buzzing. I don’t really know how to explain it. It feels like I’m buzzed—a little drunkish, but minus the loss of motor skills. I feel connected to the air.
You feel connected to the air?
Yeah. I mean, I saw that movie Lucy last night, which was probably not the best idea. There’s this moment in the movie where her brain is getting more and more active, and she’s at like 50 or 60 percent usage of her brain, and she has this moment where she explains how she can remember every touch as a kid, and she can feel the electricity in the air touching her face… I’m not saying I’m that, but I can relate to that now.
I knew you were going to say that.
Have you felt any difference in your mood?
There’s a huge emotional component to it. I’m a filmmaker and a director, and I have a movie coming out on October 10. It’s called #STUCK, and everybody’s joking that I should change the name to #STRUCK. It’s my passion, and going through this experience is very crazy and has made me realize that my life could just end tomorrow. So, pursue your passion, pursue your dreams. I mean, that poor kid passed away, and he was only 20 years old. Why didn’t I? The way I’ve been dealing with it is that I’ve been trying to have fun. I bought a bunch of lottery tickets, so hopefully they all win. I’m trying to make light of it, because otherwise it’s just too crazy. It’s a random occurrence, but for me, I’ve really just been prioritizing what I love. I mean, I know that’s so cliché. And maybe you’re not going to quit your job, and maybe the realities of life will hinder you from living your life the way you want to and going to the Maldives and going diving. But maybe it’s just one thing you do for yourself each day. Maybe it’s just one moment that you look to yourself and say, ‘Try something new. Do something that scares you.’ Because no matter what you’re doing, there are a lot scarier things out there, like being struck by lightning.
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