HONOLULU (KHON2) — Lifeguards statewide made many rescues this past week as huge surf hit north and west shores.
On Oahu, there were close to 100 rescues in just three days from Dec. 30 – Jan. 1, and the winter surf season is far from over.
Kiva Wertheimer, 14, has been surfing Pipeline for several years.
On New Year’s Day, he caught a couple of waves but then took off on the first wave of a large set and didn’t resurface.
“I fell and then my leash got wrapped around the reef so I couldn’t get up and I was stuck,” he said.
The teen said it felt like he was underwater for eternity and he debated whether or not he should take his leash off.
“It was really hard, I was trying to grab for it and I couldn’t really reach it. I was just trying to get it off and when I finally got it off and swam up there was another wave on my head,” Wertheimer said.
He wasn’t able to catch his breath before the second wave hit and was held under as a third wave crashed over him.
He wondered if anyone knew that he hadn’t resurfaced.
As the third wave passed over, Wertheimer raced up to catch a breath and right next to him was a lifeguard on a rescue craft.
“Luckily Bryan Phillips, the lifeguard on the jet ski, he was there to rescue me,” the teen said.
Phillips brought Wertheimer to shore where other lifeguards took over.
Wertheimer’s parents were not there at the time of the incident, but his brother was. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution but did not have any injuries.
“Surprisingly, I didn’t hit the reef really, at least not too hard, and I didn’t hit my head so I’m just grateful. Thank you to all the lifeguards, I really appreciate it!” Wertheimer said.
Phillips, the lifeguard who rescued him, said he saw Wertheimer’s board tombstoning.
“He was attached to his board and I reacted just as any of us would have. I just happened to be the first guy there but I know my partners would have done the same. The guys from the tower saw it, we just went in and did what we had to do,” he said.
“It’s not about what I did specifically, all my partners could do the same thing they would have been there at the same amount of time as I was, I just happened to be there at that moment and I know everyone is doing a really good job across the state and putting our lives on the line,” Phillips said.
The lifeguards did put their lives on the line, some jumping into 20-foot surf to rescue people.
KHON2 was there when two lifeguards had to jump in at Waimea Bay on Dec. 30, to rescue two bodysurfers who were stuck in a rip current.
On New Year’s Eve, a professional surfer was rescued and taken to the hospital with a head injury after hitting the reef at Pipeline. A few minutes later, another surfer was brought to shore with cuts on his arm from the reef.
“It’s a big, spectacular wave breaking in extremely shallow water, if you’ve ever seen the reef at the bottom of Pipeline, it’s incredible what those guys are actually surfing over,” said Honolulu Ocean Safety Lt. Kerry Atwood.
Pipeline has been referred to as one of the deadliest waves in the world. Just last year a bodyboarder died after being injured at Pipeline.
“When the surf is up, it’s extremely dangerous,” said Lt. Atwood. “When people come out here they need to know that this is not a place to learn how to surf when it’s a high surf advisory and we need people to understand that they need to obey the boundaries that ocean safety has set up whether its caution tape, warning signs, or PA announcements from the lifeguards.”
He said those who don’t can quickly find themselves in a life-threating situation.
And although the big surf brings many people to the North Shore’s popular beaches, Lt. Atwood said people should not venture out to un-lifeguarded beaches or areas they are not familiar with.
“We’ve had some rescues in our Mokuleia area this past week and that’s probably due to the high crowds at all the other spots and people are looking for places they can surf with fewer people,” he said.
“The ocean does not discriminate,” is his reminder to everyone.
“It’s really important that when the surf is big that you know your limits. If you’re coming out here and you’re planning on getting in the water, we recommend you take a moment, and you sit down and you actually watch the conditions and you see what’s going on, you see those sets and you know that you have the ability, physical conditioning, and experience to deal with what’s going on in the ocean on that particular day,” he said.