Tyler Rock

Damage Control with With Jeff Okuyama

This month’s ocean insight is brought to you by Freesurf and longtime lifeguard/rescue ski operator, Jeff Okuyama. Check out the waterman’s craziest jet ski rescue story and new ways to stay safe while surfing the unpredictable waters of Hawai’i.

Tips for surfing a new break.

You definitely want to sit down for a while, study the break, and ask yourself a few questions:

Where are my entry and exit points?

Where are the danger areas?

What is the current doing, and how will I get out of it if I get caught in it?

And most importantly, am I able to swim back to shore on my own as a back up plan should my leash break, or if I loose my board.

But one of the best ways to approach a new spot is to go with someone you trust who knows the area in and out, and can answer any questions you might have. Not to mention should anything go wrong you have a buddy to help you.

When should someone call for help from the lifeguard?

Don’t stall just call! Call for help whenever you want, that’s what lifeguards are there for. If you see someone in trouble, call for help. If you feel uncomfortable in the ocean at anytime call for help. Even if you think it might be minor and you might not need help, just call. Sometimes the littlest things turn out to be biggest. Lifeguards are also trained in other areas besides ocean rescues. In fact a lot of the lifeguards are EMT certified and respond to first aid and medical emergencies on a daily basis.

What should be kept in mind when surfing an unguarded break?

Keep in mind that help might not be available when you need it. We have mobile responders who are always responding to unguarded beaches. To be safe, always surf at a guarded beach. On the other hand, there are tons of unreal surf spots that are super dangerous, remote and unguarded, so if you do decide to go, never go alone, and know your limits.

How do jet skis best help a rescue situation?

Simple. The jet ski can do rescues much faster. Just imagine, you have a victim caught in a rip current going out to sea and the surf is 10 feet. If you have a rescue board, you first have to punch through a series of waves, and if you are lucky enough to hang on to the board and get past the impact zone, you now have to bring the victim back to the beach through the pounding surf. The jet ski also makes it much easier to rescue multiple victims. The most people I have put on a board on a single rescue was two. On the other hand, I was once able to put four people and a dog on the ski.

Will more regions in Hawai’i see the addition of a rescue ski or is it only essential in high surf areas like the North Shore?

I sure hope so. As the beach population rises in Hawai’i each year, it only makes sense to have more beaches with lifeguards, and more mobile lifeguards with jet skis. The jet ski is equally as valuable in flat water as it is in high surf.

What’s your craziest rescue story?

New Year’s Eve 2013. Solid 20ft+ swell out of the northwest, and the only surfable spots were Waimea Bay and the outer reefs. I was on the ski doing a patrol at Waimea when the guys at the Pipeline tower called and said to step on it because they had a guy stuck at Insanities taking cracks. When Tony and I got there we couldn’t see a thing because it was nothing but whitewater. The guards at Rock Piles had a visual on him and said over the radio to come straight in (we were between second and third reef Pipe).

Every thing happened so quickly, and all I remember was driving full throttle straight in not knowing where the guy was, when Tony said, “there he is, turn right!” All I saw was a little black speck barely above water and a hand waving. We get to him, get him on the sled and start turning back out when we find ourselves cavitating and going up a solid sucking dry 15-footer. I thought for sure we were going over backwards and getting slammed silly, but somehow we punched through the lip and went vertical out the back. The force of the landing blasted me off the ski, and by doing so shut off the ski because I had the kill switch attached to my wrist. I scrambled back on, got the kill switch in, and barely got out of there before the next one landed on us. It’s been a couple years since then and I still get chicken skin thinking how lucky we got.


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