Andre Botha is a hero. Just ask Evan Geiselman, the 22-year-old who was floating lifelessly in the impact zone at double overhead Pipeline. Ask the lifeguards and the paramedics too, of Andre’s hero status, and they’ll agree. Without the bodyboarder’s quick thinking after watching Evan disappear in a deep, monstrous barrel and not surface, rescue services may not have reached Evan in time. The surf public – who saw the entire wipeout, rescue and resuscitation because of viral videos and photos of the incident – all had the same resounding impression: Andre, courageous hero.
Now, months later, time has somewhat has diluted the hard hitting emotion and as Evan continues to move forward with his recovery (the young lad is out of the hospital and in fine shape, per reports), Andre was willing to sit down and talk in-depth about the session that nearly ended in tragedy, along with the simple steps others in the surf community can take to ensure that safety prevails at one of the world’s most deadly breaks.
Says Andre: “I was surfing Pipe for about 45 minutes, it was too big… just unruly Pipe with sets washing through. I managed to get one or two waves and that’s when a couple other surfers paddled out. I had just caught a right, but there weren’t many rights that day. When I was paddling back out this right just popped up so I thought ‘guess I’m going to go right today’. So unusual, but it was a fun wave, I did maneuver and made it. That wave put me in the position to go back out when Evan was on his wave.
“In your mind, just having seen so many wipeouts at Pipe, you automatically assume someone is going to come up, so I was still watching Evan after his wipeout and he wasn’t coming up. A bit of time passed and I was still expecting him to come up. At one point it clicked that he wasn’t going to and that’s when knew I had to rush over and help him. His board was tombstoning and by the time I got there the board was just floating. Everything was moving so quick…I swam right down where his board was and was able to get him, but we were still in the heavy part of the impact zone. I lost him when a wave hit us. I grabbed him a second time and at that point we had drifted out of the zone and I could pick him up and see his condition…I didn’t know what was wrong with him, if he had broken his neck or something…when I saw his face, his body was limp, his lungs were full of saltwater. Just limp, dark purple and foamy at the mouth. Eyes were rolled back, and honestly I thought he was dead at that point. That’s when I kicked into instinct mode and sort of did whatever I knew I had to do. I got one breath into him, and some water started coming out of him but it was still turbulent. We kept getting hit by waves. In the back of my mind I knew lifeguards were coming, I just didn’t know how long.
“Commotion was everywhere when we got to the beach. Mick Fanning, Danny Fuller, Kalani Chapman were all coming together shouting ‘come on Evan you got this Evan, you got this!’ because they all saw what a bad state he was in. When I saw him regaining consciousness, I was really surprised. Looking back, this sort of thing can go really badly but coming from something horrific, everything went in his favor. I did my part, the lifeguards did their part and everything worked in his favor after that. People are calling me the hero, but I think Evan is just as much a hero. He’s such a warrior to survive something like that. It boils down to the person. It’s a testimony to how strong he was. A lot of other people wouldn’t have made it.
“Something like this…it’s not going to happen all the time. People get hurt at Pipe but this is the most extreme version of what can happen. Now there’s an example of what can happen and it should provide
a platform to show people how important it is to look out for fellow surfers, and that’s being alert and paying attention and not necessarily thinking only about your next wave. If you see a guy get a perfect wave you can carry on, but if you see a wipeout it’s not that hard to look. It might cost you a couple seconds, but to me that seems like a no-brainer.
“At Pipe, it’s so crowded and everyone is so focused on getting their own personal waves. But I think if you’re in a position to put that aside a little bit and pay attention to what’s going on with people riding waves even if it hinders what you might be getting, that’s the main thing: to be aware of what’s happening around you. Junior lifeguarding is a great benefit too, if there’s surfers who have kids that’s a great learning lesson for young people. It teaches you about the ocean and safety, and here people ride waves of consequence. We have to look out for each other.”