Friday, August 12, 2011

First Time Surfer Makes Rescue

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                  August 12, 2011

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project
Dave Benjamin, Class Organizer & Media Relations

First Time Great Lakes Surfer Makes Rescue

PORTAGE & CHESTERTON, IN – On Monday, August 8, John Sparks, 45, Chesterton, IN was out for his first lake surfing session in the waters of the Portage Lakefront and River Walk when he heard a man standing on the pier yelling at him.

At first Sparks thought the man was yelling at him because maybe he was in a ‘no surfing’ zone, but he soon realized that the man was pointing toward a young boy drifting out in a rip current. 

“It’s deep,” is all the boy could say, barely keeping his head above water, when sparks paddled over to him.  Sparks didn’t know it then, but the boy was displaying all the signs of the Instinctive Drowning Response – facing shore, head tilted back, mouth at water level, and motioning like he’s climbing a ladder (“Drowning doesn’t look like drowning” Mario Vittone,

“A surreal moment for me,” said sparks a high school teacher in Chesterton. “It was great to have a surfboard in the water.  If you’re trying to rescue a swimmer without lifeguard training, it would be hard to swim him out of a rip [current] and get him back to shore.”

Sparks estimated that the boy was about 10 years old.  He got him on his board and paddled to the nearby rocks on the pier wall, where the boy climbed up and ran back to the beach.  There was no exchange of name or contact information.  This is how most surfer rescues occur in the Great Lakes.

According to Sparks, when he returned to shore several beach goers thanked him and a few even voiced some frustration because the beach has no lifeguards and parents weren’t watching this child. 

The waves were only two to three feet that day, but several others had drowned in the days before and after this rescue (Martin Perez, 8, Michigan City; Bradley Stoner, 22 and Daniel Reed, 46, Saugatuck; and Brett Vanetten, 20, Gary). 

It’s important to know that whenever there are waves, there are rip currents.  As the wave height increases so will the strength and frequency of the rip currents.


In 2010 approximately 74 people drowned in the Great Lakes primarily due to rip currents.  The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is made up of Great Lakes surfers dedicated to reducing drowning incidents on the Great Lakes. Surfers have a long history of rescues along our coasts.  Surfers are often in the water when conditions are most dangerous: high surf and cold water. 

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project consists of two elements:
1. The “Surfboard Rescue Techniques” class;
2. The “Third Coast Ocean Force” Rip Current Awareness PSA Campaign.

The “Surfboard Rescue Techniques” class is currently FREE and OPEN to the public – Friends, Family, Employees, Employers, Surfers, SUP’ers, Kayakers, Professional Water Rescue Personnel, Social Groups of People, etc.
The “Surfboard Rescue Techniques” class will teach participants how to:
--Recognize the danger of the surf environment keeping personal safety as THE primary responsibility – Identifying hazardous conditions
--Understand rip currents; i.e. how, where, and why rip currents occur; How to survive rips;
--Know the “Signs of Drowning” – How to identify a person in trouble from within a crowd.
--Summon help
--Use a surfboard or other flotation device to rescue a person in distress or in a rip current
--React when encountering swimmers who have suffered an injury
--React to an unconscious victim
--Enroll in lifesaving, first aid and CPR training from accredited agencies.

The Great Lakes are sometimes referred to as the “Third Coast” of the United States and the “Third Coast” can have "Ocean Force" rip currents during windy weather conditions.  Each Surfboard Rescue Techniques” class will provide an opportunity to cause rip current awareness through the classroom as well as media opportunities.

  • Surfrider Foundation, Vince Deur & Ingrid Lindfors
Grand Haven, MI

  • Wet Mitten Surf Shop, Ben & John McNeil
301 N Harbor, Grand Haven, MI 49417
(616) 844-3388

  • No Quarter Surf Boards, Marty Karish
Grand Haven, MI

  • Great Lakes Proud, Austin Holsinger

  • The Great Lakes Surfing Association, Bob Beaton
Grand Haven, MI

  • Third Coast Surf Shop, Ryan Gerard
St. Joseph and New Buffalo, MI

  • Beach Nut Surf Shop, Larry Bordine
1100 Main St., Frankfort, MI 49635

  • Additional partners and sponsors coming soon…

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