Just as they’ve done many times before, 17-year-old Jaimen Hudson and his mates gun their motorcycles over a dune. Jaimen takes off for a jump, and in the blink of an eye, his world changes forever. As he lies on the dune, flipped motorcycle beside him, he already knows his life will never be the same.
The accident in 2008 left Jaimen a quadriplegic. Today, he’s paralysed from the chest down with the use of only one wrist, and no use of his fingers. However, despite the massive obstacles placed in his path, he is the living embodiment of optimism.
“I’ve been lucky to always have a positive outlook; I don’t dwell on the negative,” Jaimen says. “It sucks that I have to have carers in the morning, is the honest truth. But then, in reality, I’m so grateful that there’s people that are willing to do that for their job or I’d be completely screwed. When we travel to Perth, complete strangers will come to my house and help get me out of bed and shower. I’m so lucky that there’s people out there that want to do that.”
Jaimen’s determination to be positive started soon after his accident. “I think even when I was in hospital, I realised what has occurred is irreversible, there’s no point in me dwelling on it. I couldn’t even scratch an itch on my face for like six weeks because I couldn’t move my arms at all. But I think eventually I’ve just moved on with my new life,” he says.
“Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could kick the footy with my son. But I’m also very lucky that I found a woman to have a baby with me in the first place, to get married. I never thought I would be lucky enough to be a father.”
Growing up in Esperance, Western Australia, Jaimen had salt water in his veins. His parents owned the local dive shop, and he spent his spare time diving and surfing in the turquoise waters there. After his accident, he mourned the loss of the ocean in his life. But Jaimen has created a new quasi-connection to the sea, through drone photography.
Today, Jaimen’s drone cinematography showcases stunning wildlife scenarios, including super-pods of dolphins surfing the perfect waves, or southern right whales interacting with each other and sometimes inspecting humans, all with the glorious backdrop of Esperance’s picture-postcard coastline.
“One of my dolphin videos was uploaded by the World Surf League and got 130 million views,” he says. But Jaimen’s main motivation is not social media numbers. It’s his love of the wild ocean, and connecting others to wildlife.
“I share it with people all over the world that I’ve never even met before,” Jaimen says. “There’s so much negativity online these days, but I think I’ve lucked into one genre where it’s kind of hard to be mad at what I’m doing.”
Filming incredible footage of dolphins punching through the back of crystal-clear waves is tricky for anyone. For
Jaimen, the usual challenges are magnified. But in the last year he has been able to film by himself for the first time, thanks to a new car, which he describes as an “incredibly amazing and expensive technology.”
“I have no triceps, so I can’t transfer out of my chair independently,” he explains. So, using the car’s hoist, Jaimen and his wheelchair are lifted into the driver’s position, where the wheelchair docks. “I have on my left-hand side a brake and accelerator. And on my right-hand side, I have a tiny little wheel that you turn, and that turns the big steering wheel.” There’s a special backrest for support, and he wrangles his seatbelt with his teeth.
Jaimen continues: “And then when I find whales or dolphins, I’ve got to pull up and unclick my seatbelt, undo the backrest, and get the drone off the back seat and put it on my lap. It’s quite a process.” Jaimen says that often the wildlife has moved on, requiring him to do it all again.
“Sometimes I actually wish I had a film crew there to document it because the struggle is real!” he says. “The wind’s blowing, I’m trying to get the drone out, but I drop something…I have to laugh because I’m like, this is crazy!”
But all jokes aside, Jaimen’s new car is a game changer for his lifestyle.
“Oh man, free is the only way I can describe it,” he says. Jaimen explains that someone normally assists him to go to bed, get up in the morning, and even to shower, and he was craving some autonomy.
“So the independence of just being able to drive somewhere on your own is actually so surreal,” he says. “And honestly, the first time I went to Bunnings independently, I cried.” Having the car even allows Jaimen to drive his son places, once he’s been strapped in. “Then I can use the knuckle on my thumb to undo his seatbelt, and he climbs onto my lap and we can do an activity, just the two of us. Things like that just help me feel more like a regular dad.” And with a second baby due shortly, he looks forward to being as hands-on as possible.
The story of Jaimen and his wife, Jess, originally from Canada, is like a fairytale. Jess arrived in Esperance to work as a beautician and the pair met through a mutual friend. Jaimen says 10 years ago, they travelled to Bali together as friends and returned home as a couple.
The pair got engaged on remote Middle Island, some 120km east of Esperance, on the beach between the striking bubblegum-pink waters of Lake Hillier and the vibrant blue of the Southern Ocean.
“It’s like the least wheelchair-friendly place in the world,” he says, laughing. In this special location that so few humans visit, Jaimen proposed with a diamond he’d stashed in his drone bag.
Although Jaimen sells prints and calendars, and works for various production companies, he describes his droning activities as his hobby. His main gig is running his family’s business, which has diversified from diving into fishing and wildlife tours. On the day I meet him in his Esperance office, the phone is running hot with bookings for the tours and their self-contained holiday units. For Jaimen, working in tourism has been a critical part of his good mental health.
“Working gave me a distraction from my disability and things I couldn’t do, so coming down here, answering the phones, gave me a purpose and I think everyone needs a purpose in life.” He adds that he aspires to help provide this opportunity to others living with disabilities through his position on the board of the Disability Services Commission for WA.
Hoping to experience some of the wildlife and seascapes Jaimen treasures so much, I’ve booked his Esperance Island Cruises for a morning of touring the Recherche Archipelago. It’s a glittering day as we cruise by national park islands spotting Australian sea lions, waddling Cape Barren geese, and a white-bellied sea-eagle that’s offered a fishy treat.
Before returning to the port, we drop in to Blue Haven beach, one of Jaimen’s favourite droning sites. Here the granite headlands curve down to meet white sands and vivid, aquamarine waters. Right on cue, a pod of dolphins rides our bow wave, before peeling off to mob a nearby paddleboarder. I feel as though I’m in one of Jaimen’s drone videos, and I can see why he finds it so addictive.
After years of being behind the camera, Jaimen recently found himself the star of a documentary movie. Wildlife cinematographers and family friends Leighton and Jodie de Barros created the film Jaimen Hudson: From Sky to Sea, which was released in cinemas in March 2021. The movie covers Jaimen’s ambition to dive again, and follows him to Ningaloo Reef in the state’s north. In the movie, viewers get to experience Jaimen’s joy of being back in salt water snorkelling with whale sharks, dolphins and massive humpback whales. There is one special moment of connection between Jaimen and a particular whale. “I felt like it was in slow motion; like I had this whale eye to eye with me as it slowly swam through,” he recounts. He pauses, adding: “I know the ocean welcomed me back.”
Jaimen has two new projects currently in the pipeline. One is a documentary about how climate change is affecting certain marine areas in Australia more than others. “We want to look at why that is and also just show the fantastic wildlife above and below the water,” he says.
Second, there’s a potential television series with the theme of “Quad for a Week”, with Jaimen hosting a couple of notable Australians who would temporarily live like a quadriplegic, including getting in and out of bed with a hoist, and the assisted-showering rigmarole. “I think that would spread a lot of awareness, and perhaps help people have more empathy for those with a disability.”
Leaving Jaimen’s office, I can’t help feeling inspired. Here’s someone who faces enormous challenges daily, and yet still insists he is lucky. His positivity and boundary-pushing attitude seem to promise a very bright future. Watch this space, Australia, because Jaimen Hudson is just getting started.