Being a part of Ocean Safety is probably one of the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs in the world, especially if you’re stationed on the North Shore of Oahu. Rescues are a daily constant along the 7-Mile Miracle, with nearly 400 rescues occurring last year alone. In this month’s Damage Control, we feature a dedicated ocean safety expert who risks injury and death to save other people’s lives… and it’s all just part of the job description. This is Mikey’s story.
Occupations: Lifeguard, Pro Surfer, Surf Instructor, Surf Coach, Condo Cleaner
A ‘Backyard’ Rescue
It was last winter, January 2014. The North Shore was pumping 15 to 18ft with strong northwest winds… Crappy conditions, no one in the water anywhere. I was sitting in the tower at Sunset Beach when my friend ran up to me and said, “Someone is getting sucked out in the rip between Phantoms and Backyards.” So my partner and I flew it down there, but didn’t see anybody. Finally I spotted one individual about a half mile out in channel, then we got the report that there were two people.
I raced out to the first guy, then started looking for his friend. I spotted him 200 yards away getting sucked into the lefts at giant Backyards. It was about 15ft plus Hawaiian scale, scary stuff. I was genuinely scared, I did not want to be out there at all. I told the guy in the channel to keep paddling in while I went to get his friend because he was about to go into the impact zone. I got to his friend and threw him on the board… he was all stoked. I told him, “We’re not out of the woods yet!”
Then a capping 15-footer flooded the horizon. “Paddle!” I screamed. We literally went up to the tip top of the wave and then free fell down the whole back. Any surfer knows that you almost got caught when that happens. Relieved we made it through that one, I look up and see another set. In my mind, I’m thinking, “We have to make it over this!” We paddled our hardest and just barely made it again, it was gnarly. It was like Rocky Point x30. The current was pulling us into the bowl, but I knew we needed to go out because the jet ski was coming. It took a long time though.
They rescued the guy in the channel first, and went back in because we were so far out that we couldn’t be seen. Luckily my partner informed him that I was still out there. At this point, we were every bit of one mile out to sea while still going over capping waves. Finally, the jet ski showed up. I threw the kid on the ski, but then the jet ski driver said, “I’ll come back to get you.” So he took the kid in and I was left out there by myself.
Thank God Dave Wassel came out to assist me. Which actually isn’t that comforting because Wassel isn’t afraid of anything in the ocean. I looked over to him and asked, “Are we gonna catch a wave in?” He grinned and said, “Hell, I am! I don’t know if you are, but I am!” Right there, Wassel goes and catches the next wave! So I try to catch the next one. I caught it… and It just blew me up, boom! It blew the board away and blew my fins off. So now I’m out there treading water with no equipment or anything. I was kind of scared, but I knew that the jet ski was coming, so I just handled it. Took a few waves on the head before the jet ski came to get me. When I was finally brought in, I talked to the kids for a bit. They were stoked and thankful to be alive.