When we are out in the water, either at home or overseas, we don't often think about worst-case scenarios. Surfing is our escape, and the last thing we want to do while riding waves is think about being responsible.
Plus, most of us aren’t riding waves that typically require rescue skills and escape plans—so we leave the safety summits to the big-wave warriors, and don’t spend much time thinking about what we would do if something were to go wrong.
But even in the smallest surf, accidents can happen, and it’s good to be prepared—as a group of surfers discovered a few weeks back. Kilty Inafuku was out longboarding at Ala Moana Bowls two weeks ago with five other surfers—her friend Joji and a few other Bowls regulars.
One of them—a stoic uncle who is out nearly every day on his tiger-striped shortboard—was spending his morning nabbing small right-handers off the back of the peak. The waves were knee-to-waist high, and the last thing on anyone’s mind was an emergency. But mid-session, one side of the uncle’s face suddenly started to droop, and one side of his body started to go numb.
He called out for help, and the five other surfers in the lineup quickly paddled over to him. One of the group realised he was having a stroke, and started paddling to shore, yelling over her shoulder that she would call 911. The rest of the group helped the uncle onto his board and paddled him to shore. By the time they got him up the beach to the parking lot, paramedics had arrived.
Strokes are a strange malady. Blood clots in the brain cut off the flow of oxygen to vital control centres, and can cause strokes to manifest in a variety of ways—most of which include some sort of impairment or deficiency.
By the time the paramedics could start treatment, the uncle had lost the use of nearly his entire body. But one of the amazing things about strokes is that if they are treated with blood-thinning meds within 60 minutes, nearly all impairment is often reversible. The uncle was rushed off to the hospital, where he received further treatment, and two days later Kilty and Joji got word that he is expected to make a full recover—largely because of the preparedness and quick action of the other surfers in the water.
Looking back, it’s clear that the uncle was extremely fortunate to have the group around him that he did. Things could have gone much differently if his stroke had occurred while he was on the inside, with no one to come to his aid—or if he’d had a medical emergency while surfing alone, or with a group that wasn’t quite so quick to think and act, or to take notice of their fellow surfers.
Riding waves can often be a somewhat selfish pursuit, and despite the crowded lineups—or perhaps precisely because of them—we often paddle out in our own little bubbles, isolating ourselves emotionally from the competition that surrounds us so that we can be focused on getting our “fair share” of the waves.
But at the end of the day, riding a few extra waves isn’t actually that important. What is important is the people that we interact with—and all of our safety both in the water and out.
The ocean is an unpredictable environment where anything can happen, even on the small days when the waves don’t seem that intimidating.
This new year, as we all take on resolutions and turn over new leaves, let’s resolve to help make the lineup a safer place. Search out water rescue, CPR, and first-aid classes in your area, and spend time discussing emergency plans from time to time, so that you and your friends know what to do if something were to go wrong. And most of all, keep an eye on your fellow surfers. Nothing spells good wave karma like making sure everyone paddles in safe after every session.
Cover shot: Aaron Gold after taking a tumble at a relatively small day at Cloudbreak.