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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Dangers of Surfing Alone | Huntington Beach Pier

It would seem the days of every other season bring about the same invigorating bliss and care-free enthusiasm that the warmer months of the year trend in contempt of how bright the sun may not actually be. One can’t help but be envious of people who live anywhere else when the dead of Winter bares the light as bright, the deep sand warms your feet, and the breeze kisses your cheek just enough to ignore the near 90 degree temperature. The Orange County beaches of Southern California really are my personal heaven. 

sunrise surf session on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier
This same care-free enthusiasm and vigor doesn’t always have so happy a story. In the Autumn of 1997, a sixteen-year-old surfing prodigy by the name of Josh Hall was out in the late afternoon with nobody familiar but his home break and the setting sun. As the story goes, Josh shot the pier, a maneuver that’s not uncommon but absolutely has its risks as it involves surfing through the concrete pylons that hold the pier up. I’ve done it myself, but the same goes with driving on the road: the faster you go, the harder you’re gonna hit when that wall comes. Poor Josh was far from new at the sport, but he was surfing on an epic day.

Nobody knows what happened, exactly. Whether he misjudged his timing, if his footing was off, or if it was something else entirely – but the collision was big enough to catch the attention of another surfer on the beach who hadn’t paddled out yet. Like I said, it was an epic day, so much so that this surfer didn’t even try to paddle out after him and instead booked it to the nearest lifeguard tower to report the accident. 

Just so happens the vigilant lifeguards of Huntington City saw the accident, and the lifeguard who responded made contact with the victim whose board was in two pieces. Fortunately for him, he was unharmed. Unfortunately for Josh, the efforts of the by-standing surfer who responsibly called for help weren’t enough. The problem with big days in Huntington is that there are often more surfers than there are eyes on them. The lifeguards didn’t see Josh’s accident on the inside wave, but another surfer on the wave behind him. Freak set of waves, if you ask me. How often do you hear about two surfers getting punished like this in the same set? Same wave? Sure. Same set? Naw. Nothing like this has happened since ‘97 if that gives you an idea - and then, it was infrequent enough for HB’s finest to believe that the two incidents were one and the same. 

So it goes, another surfer in the area happened to see Josh’s board adrift some minutes later. When he pulled on the leash, Josh was still on it. This cool guy hollered and waved for help from other surfers in the area – one of which happened to be an “off duty” Firefighter – if you know a Firefighter then you know they’re never off duty. Despite all efforts, Josh didn’t make it.

No lawsuits were filed. Fingers weren’t pointed. All-in-all, six people were credited for attempting to save Josh’s life. His family recognized these souls, and founded the Joshua Dean Hall Memorial Scholarship for surfers. If you’d like to donate, you can contact Huntington Beach High School, (714) 536-2514, and they can help you out. 

So what’s the moral of the story? Never surf alone. Paddle out with someone who knows your face. If you’re like me and you like the solitude of being alone with your thoughts when you’re out there, surf near other people but stray from the large groups so you don’t fall into the anonymous number. Make sure they see your face or anything that’s distinguishable about you: your board, your wetsuit, or maybe you met in the parking lot and you’re that guy with the ridiculous longboard bike surf rack – take the opportunity to be welcomed by the people you’re sharing the ocean with at that moment in time. Introduce yourself politely, and be friendly. Just think: if someone knew Josh, they could have noticed he was missing, and they could have been looking for him before his board was spotted drifting. 


Athair Baer.