Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Near Death of a Wakeskater

Later in the afternoon we headed out to these irrigation canals about 15 min away from where we were staying.  One of the local guys took us there to show us some possible riding spots.  We checked out a few, but James wasn't too impressed and wanted to look at other areas.  So we headed down the road more and came to a area with a dam with rushing water.  That was pretty extreme, but James saw a spot a few yards down that he wanted to try.  It was a spot that had a little drop so it had some rushing water, but not as fast as the dam.  But it still looked pretty sketchy.  James wanted to try that spot so he geared up.
Before jumping in James grabbed a tire and put a COAST GUARD APPROVED PFD Vest on it to see how it flowed down the river and out of the heavy current area.
They threw it in tied to a wakeboard leash and followed it down.
In the background is the dam area where the water was rushing pretty hard.

Shelby throwing in the tire for the test.
It dropped in and flowed right out.
The tire with the vest.
James fishing out the tire.  Seeing how it flowed out he was satisfied and felt it was safe to ride.
His first pass.  He had a tow rope tied to a Ford Flex.  
James' first pass and jump.
He fell and got flushed right out.
Second pass.
Fell.  Flushed right out.
A few more passes and tricks.
Going the other way and making the jump.
His last pass.  Up to this point he was just trying to see what could be done.  It really wasn't anything mind blowing as far as tricks go. Then he wanted the vehicle to be stationary while he backed into the current and just surfed the drop while holding the rope.
It took him a while to try an get into position and he could never get it set up. All the while fighting that current and holding onto the rope.
He lost his board and his footing and was holding onto the rope.  At this time Daniel couldn't see or hear him.  James was trying to tell him to pull forward.
James eventually lost his grip and fell into the rushing water.  If you look at the spot just to the left of him that's where he got sucked into.  Now this is where things got scary.  This time he didn't flush out and got held in the worst spot possible.  He'd pop up for a few seconds and then get sucked under. (At this time I stopped shooting realizing the severity of this situation)  We yelled from across the canal to Daniel (who didn't know what was going on just yet) for him to throw the rope to James.  But they had to back the car up, and I think Daniel had to untie it from the truck.  That took a few seconds and James was still fighting for his life.  Daniel managed to get it untied and started throwing the rope.  James was still trying to get breathes in between of getting sucked under and actually made one last ditch effort to swim to the side.  He had said he gave it everything he got and actually almost made it to the side.  But the current sucked him back to the same point he was at.  James said at that time he pretty much thought he was going to die, because he didn't have the energy to try it again.  Meanwhile Daniel had thrown the rope 3 times with no success.  On the fourth try James got a hold of it and Daniel pulled him out of the danger zone and down stream.
Here is James just after being pulled out. Look at his face. Exhausted and probably in a little bit of shock.
Daniel hugging James as he made his way up.
And then James just collapsed to the ground from exhaustion.  He puked up water and just laid there for several minutes.
Counting his blessings.

Greg checking on Balzer making sure he is ok.  I seriously thought this was going to be a day where somebody actually died before my very own eyes.  It was pretty scary.  James was fighting for his life in that water for about a minute to 2 minutes.  That's a loooong time in the water!  So let this be a lesson to anybody going out and doing these types of things.  BE PREPARED!!!!! We weren't totally prepared but had enough to save a life.  The one thing James said was thankfully he had a COAST GUARD APPROVED PFD vest on.  He usually wears a competition vest or nothing at all.  That one thing saved his life.  We should have had rope out ready on both sides to throw out to save time.  Never under estimate the situation of the water and don't try to be a hero and go in without a vest.  You won't make it!!!!!


Anonymous said...

Oh shit! That's so damn sketchy man.

I like to go caving every year with some friends, and every time we come outta there I'm so thankful that everybody stayed safe.

Mark said...

Yeah, you never know. Just be safe.