In light of the recent death of a fellow surfer at Devereux this weekend, I felt I needed to finally write a note of concern to the local surf community in respect to water safety. While my opinion has very little to do with the untimely, and yet undetermined cause of death to this fellow ocean-lover, I do think the water safety issue needs to be addressed to avoid further incidents along the coast.
Having surfed this stretch of coast for more than 20 years, I have seen too many “close calls” in the water to even keep count. With the current increase in interest in our sport, I have seen more people entering the lineup with less experience, putting themselves and others in increasing danger.
I know part of the allure of Santa Barbara is the beach lifestyle, and many of you see it as a great opportunity to pick up a board and ride the waves right in our backyard. As the waves here are generally small and weak, 90 percent of the time this is a great way to have fun and enjoy a mental cleansing of classroom overload or a workday nightmare.
But as the winter swells arrive and the water starts to move more powerfully at the local breaks, please recognize your abilities and stay clear of the heavier spots, or out of the water all together. It has become so crowded in the water this year that surfing has become nothing short of a human slalom course, filled with flailing arms and loose boards spinning through the whitewater.
On the biggest day of the season so far, I am certain there were well over 150 people packed in between Goleta and Devereux and more than half of those people were way out of their league. I passed a kid in the channel at Campus Point who could barely stand up in the waves this summer, but had somehow made it out to the impact zone to get tagged by set wave after set wave. He was a human speed bump and potential drowning or collision victim.
Please know there is no shame in knowing you limits, and be honest with yourself about what those limits are. Start small and work your way up the beach by being respectful of the ocean and the locals and knowing some of the general rules of the water. Keep paddling, don’t bail your board; do not drop in on someone if they already have priority and are in control.
As illustrated by the quick response to the heart attack victim near Devereux, surfers prove themselves to be intelligent and concerned citizens all too eager to do what’s right to ensure the safety of all those who enjoy our beaches. While no amount of water safety can eliminate the occurrence of an apparent heart attack by a fellow waterman, certainly we can avoid having to call in SB County Search and Rescue to fish you out of the water. Understanding the rules and your skills in the water can hopefully decrease the likelihood of getting run over or speared in the lineup and increase the enjoyment we feel when we do catch that perfect wave.
Dwayne Hauschild is a Santa Barbara resident.