17. Surfer Down
Yes, I'm going to speculate here.
I drove to the beach this afternoon, hoping for a little size to thin out the ever-growing crowds a bit. Japan is surf-crazy, especially after the rise of national star Kanoa Igarashii, silver-medalist at the Olympics last year. Alas, there was a big banner stretched over the entrance to the parking lot, obviously a contest sponsor, and the lot was nearly full. I figured while I'm here I may as well have a look at the waves. The main peaks will either be closed to non-competitors, or packed, but I'll get to see some good surfing before I head off to a less-crowded spot.
I got to the top of the earthen seawall, built after the great 2011 earthquake, and looked out at the big, typhoon swell coming in. Too late! Magic Seaweed, the popular wave-forecasting website, had called for only 3 to 4 feet at 3pm. I thought I could get a session in today before the local beaches closed out tomorrow. But it was huge out there. There was only one surfer in the water, who was taking his last wave in after a double-overhead take off, and the contest was probably long over. People were carrying stuff back to the parking lot. I wasn't going to get a session in, but I was happy to be at the beach with the big lines coming in, imagining that they must have had quite a contest as the swell kept building to an exciting final in powerful surf. And it was great to see all the faces- unlike everywhere else, nobody out here was wearing a mask. If there's hope, maybe it's in the surfing community!
Having come up the stairs on the eastern edge of the parking lot, I thought I'd do a loop and come down on the busier western-side stairs, closer to the all the contest hubub. I walked along the big berm that parallels the ocean and watched a few huge sets come in and slam on the beach where they were taking down the tournament tent. This was a serious competition- lots of sponsor's flags, covered staff areas, utility vehicles, food trucks, etc.
Heading down the stairs back to the parking lot, I only got a few steps and the site before me made me freeze. About 20 yards in front of me a crowd was gathered around an unconscious surfer, lying on a board bag, with another surfer frantically giving him CPR. The rescue buddy was doing compression-only CPR, and he was pushing hard and fast. I had the heavy feeling in my gut and wondered, “When are the paramedics going to get here?” and immediately I heard the ambulance siren.
Then I looked back at the ocean and thought, “Not again!” I've surfed this spot for over two decades and it gets the biggest crowds in the area, but never remember a serious injury until a freak accident just a couple years ago when, on a big day, a surfer got knocked out by his own board and drowned. But then I remembered something about that accident. The ambulance had come out all the way out to the beach. How did the downed surfer today get to the parking lot? It seemed weird that they would carry an unconscious surfer from the shore all the way up the big beach, then up and down the huge tsunami wall to the lot. This was a big, sponsored event and someone would know you don't move a guy who may have had a neck or back injury in the water.
Then the thought hit me. Maybe he didn't have an injury in the water. He had finished surfing and he was back on land. He'd collapsed. I looked back at the surfer and his frantic rescuer and crowd around them and said it to myself. “Is this one of those cases? Maybe this is exactly what Mark Crispin Miller is so diligently reporting in his substack blog, of sudden cardiac collapse and death, in otherwise healthy people.”
Why would I assume the surfer was healthy? Because surfers are fit and healthy and you cannot surf on a day like this unless you are in top shape. There's no workout like a big wave session, especially at a beach break where there is no easy way out to the lineup. And you have to be very tough to handle the hold-downs. This guy was most-likely a contest surfer who had already finished his session, and then collapsed.
I wanted to ask the guy next to me what had happened, but he looked surprised and stunned and I figured he was as uninformed as me. Then two surfers came up from the parking and as they reached the top one said, “That's where he collapsed, on those stairs.”
Less than two weeks ago I'd heard Dr. Ricardo Delgado of La Quinta Columna saying he expected the pressure of the water on the hearts of the vaccinated to cause collapse, so look for lots of injuries at the beach this summer. I remembered the story of the American synchronized swimmer losing consciousness in the water after her routine and being rescued, twice already! I thought of the hundreds of amateur and professional soccer players, basketball players and other athletes collapsing on the court and field.
Up high on the berm, I could see the ambulance approach from a mile away. Japanese ambulances and fire trucks are excruciatingly slow as they navigate busy roads and intersections; they are extremely careful to not cause an added tragedy. All down the big parking lot surfers on either side waved the ambulance along, trying to get them to the downed surfer quicker. Even when they finally came to a stop right in front of the injured surfer, they were slow and methodical in getting their equipment and coming to the aid of the victim. “Hurry up!” I said to myself as they brought out the gurney. Once the gurney was laid beside the surfer, they had him on it quickly and into the ambulance. As they wheeled it toward the van, one of the surfer's friends, frantic and worried, kept giving him chest compressions until the back door of the van was closed. I didn't catch the name he called out but I did hear a few guys say, “Gambatte!” (Hang in there, buddy!)
I said a prayer for the poor guy and I'm thinking he might make it. He went down in a crowded area so he was probably attended to very quickly and when I first saw him it might have been only a couple minutes since his collapse. Maybe between falling and the ambulance only 5 or 6 minutes passed, with a knowledgeable surfer giving CPR the whole time. I'm hopeful.
In the mean time a big fire truck had arrived and they were asking people about the accident. I walked back to my car and decided to head home. Driving out I stopped to talk to a guy loading up his surf gear. “Do you have any information about the injured surfer?”
-It wasn't an injury.
-It wasn't an injury?
-No. (He put his hand over his chest, right in front of the heart.) It was sickness.
-Sickness? What sickness?
-I really don't know.
-So it wasn’t because of something that happened in the water?
-Nope. It was some sickness and he passed out.
We stared at each other for a moment. Then I reached over toward my upper left arm and with thumb, forefinger and middle finger indicated the action of giving a shot. The guy gave a nervous laugh and said, “Yeah. Could be.”
We agreed that it was all shocking and tragic and sad (珍しい、かわいそう), and I drove off.
And the branch covidians will say, “Athletes collapse. Athletes die. It's nothing new!”
If the surfer doesn’t make it, maybe the morning paper will report it as a case of SADS.
But big wave, tough surfers in their 20s don't finish a session, then collapse on their walk back to the car. Not in my experience. Ever.
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