Ephraim Gudgeon didn't enter the water with a simple splash, but a thud that cracked his world apart.

His 35-metre leap from Bay of Plenty's Omanawa Falls' cliff face on Waitangi Day 2017 fractured his T12 vertebra and paralysed him from the waist down.

"When I hit the water – because it was so high, it just felt like floor ... like hitting the ground. All I could remember was not being able to feel my legs," Gudgeon said.

Yelling for help, no one could hear him.

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"So I just had to swim to the edge," he told accident insurer Accident Compensation Corporation in a recent safety campaign.

Mobile phone footage taken afterwards shows him limp, stretched on rocks by the water's edge when paramedics arrived.

He was 24 years old, a former Waikato swimming champion, international hip-hop dancer and fitness trainer.

Atop the falls, he had been alive with youth and keen to the adrenaline rush, but not his own mortality.

Ephraim Gudgeon moments before jumping from the top of a 35-metre waterfall. Photo / ACC
Ephraim Gudgeon moments before jumping from the top of a 35-metre waterfall. Photo / ACC

And in that Gudgeon isn't alone.

People getting injured while jumping into water from bridges, waterfalls and other heights is sharply on the rise, having more than doubled in the last five years, the Accident Compensation Corporation said.

In 2018 alone, there were 194 such injuries - mostly to young men.

Last year, the ACC paid claims to 36,515 people to help them recover from water-related injuries.

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That equated to a "staggering" 100 injuries a day, ACC injury prevention leader Kirsten Malpas said.

To put the brakes on these numbers, the accident insurer has launched a partnership with Water Safety NZ.

Ephraim Gudgeon says it's important to stay positive rather than hold regrets. Photo / ACC
Ephraim Gudgeon says it's important to stay positive rather than hold regrets. Photo / ACC

"Last year, we helped 200,000 kids learn how to make smart decisions around water with the Water Skills for Life programme," Malpas said.

The organisation also invested in a kaupapa Māori water safety programme called Kia Maanu Kia Ora, and a Swim Reaper campaign aimed at young men, who are over-represented in water-related accidents and deaths.

Gudgeon is delighted to support the campaigns.

He urged others to spend a moment thinking about the consequences before jumping into any water.

"There were signs saying no trespassing and we just ignored them. It didn't really seem like a big deal to me, I thought I'd just jump, and it'd be fun," he said.

Ephraim Gudgeon with his Mr Olympia gold medal won in Canada last year. Photo / ACC
Ephraim Gudgeon with his Mr Olympia gold medal won in Canada last year. Photo / ACC

"I didn't think about the consequences. Or how it could affect, not just me, but everyone around me."

"Those first few days were hard. I think I cried every night for the first few months. There were a lot of tears."

Yet Gudgeon has no regrets jumping off the waterfall.

"I'm not saying I would do it again, but I am saying I'm grateful for the many opportunities, people I've been able to meet, and the work I've been able to do since my accident."

Remarkably, just six months after the jump, he was back at work in the gym.

In 2017, he had only recently married wife Arian and the couple have now moved from Hamilton to Gisborne to manage an Anytime Fitness outlet.

Ephraim Gudgeon says he has a new appreciate for the simple moments in life like shopping with wife Arian. Photo / ACC
Ephraim Gudgeon says he has a new appreciate for the simple moments in life like shopping with wife Arian. Photo / ACC

Most of the bigger-picture goals in his life are still the same, Gudjeon just has to go about them slightly differently.

Like finding ways to get about on his own.

"Becoming independent is the ultimate goal. Driving is a big part of that. Before I got a hand-controlled car, I couldn't go anywhere without Ari picking me up and dropping me off," he said.

"I consider being independent a huge blessing."

And it also didn't take him long to get back into his love of sport.

He thought about taking up wheelchair rugby or swimming in the Paralympics but found himself pulled towards bodybuilding.

While still in the hospital's spinal unit, he researched and discovered New Zealand had wheelchair bodybuilding competitions.

Nine months after the accident, he won NZ's Wheelchair Bodybuilding Federation nationals.

Then midway through last year - two years after the accident - he travelled to Canada for the 2019 Toronto Pro SuperShow and won its wheelchair bodybuilding.

That gold medal certified him as a professional athlete and allows him to compete in competitions, such as Mr Olympia.

Now Ephraim's dreams are of one day winning the Mr Olympia title, made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger and growing the sport locally.

Stay safe this summer

• Watch out for rips, swim on a life guarded beach between the flags.

• Look before you leap; check for hazards under the surface of the water.

• Take particular care around rocks.

• Be sensible with alcohol when around water.