Law-breaking photographer saves the life of Maverick’s surfer

Russell Ord wasn’t supposed to be in the lineup at Maverick’s on his Wave Runner Saturday. Technically he was breaking a recently passed ban on personal watercraft (PWCs) in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary imposed by NOAA.

Luckily that didn’t stop him from heading out on his PWC to shoot photos of surfers braving a clean late January swell.

While his presence may have miffed some, it’s clear now that his quick action saved the life of surfer Jacob Trette when disaster struck in the morning. Ord’s life-saving action is exactly why many surfers opposed the ban in the first place, citing the lack of life-saving apparatus allowed near the break on big days as a danger.

The incident occurred at approximately 9:45 am Saturday morning, when a huge set of waves caught a number of surfers by surprise. Many of them had been lured closer to shore where cleaner waves were breaking more consistently on the higher tide. Then suddenly a huge 25-foot cleanup set approached, heaving way outside of where the pack was sitting. Surfers scrambled and scratched for the horizon to avoid being pummeled in the impact zone. Trette was one of the unlucky ones.

The 30-year-old surfer was sucked over the falls by the first wave after failing to make it over. (He’s visible in in the middle of the shot above, paddling the green board.) When he finally resurfaced Trette was staring straight at another 20-foot wave crashing down on him. He endured two two-wave hold downs before being washed through the rocks inside.

When the set approached Ord was sitting safely in the channel on his ski, but sprang into action as soon as the 20-foot set cleared. In the commotion, he nabbed Alex Bottello, another victim, and pulled him out of the impact zone. He was zipping Bottello toward shore when the two spotted Trette’s lifeless body floating face-up in the frothy whitewater way inside.

Ord jumped in the water and pulled him onto the rescue sled attached to his ski. Bottello then held Trette’s body in place on the sled while Ord raced to shore, where an EMT and another surfer skilled in CPR went to work on Trette. They continued until Firefighters arrived and managed to get a pulse.

Trette was later air lifted to Stanford Medical Center, where according to the San Francisco Chronicle, he was put into a medically induced coma after arriving. As of Sunday morning, no official update on his condition has broken, but according to the Half Moon Bay Review, renowned local photographer/lifesaver Frank Quirarte, the man spearheading this year’s annual big wave competition, gave an unofficial update on Trette’s status early Sunday:

“As of last evening Jacob was moving his arms and legs and his pupils are dilating. They’re lowering his body temp so he doesn’t use as much oxygen and keeping him heavily sedated. He has an anoxic brain injury due to lack of oxygen to the brain. To early to tell how much damage has been done if any. Sending our prayers to him and his family.”

UPDATE: According to Stanford Medical Center Trette remains in critical condition as of 5:00 p.m. PT Sunday.

Back in 2007 and 2008, when the ban was being debated, Quirarte was adamantly lobbying for safety logic, citing the concern to big-wave surfers. The ban even became a wedge issue among surfing environmentalists in the local Surfrider Chapter as the two sides struggled to find a consensus on the issue. None was reached within the tight-knit surfing community. Ultimately Quirarte’s side lost.

Saturday’s incident is likely to bring the wisdom of NOAA’s rules back into question. Ever since the 1994 death of big-wave surfing legend Mark Foo at Maverick’s photographers based on land and in the water have become a vital part of the rescue efforts when surfers get in trouble.

Both groups of photographers carry radios and stay in communication with each other to identify victims in need of help. “The ban has completely broken that system down,” says veteran Maverick’s photographer Don Montgomery. “If something happens to Jacob or any of these surfers there’s no question it’s on NOAA’s shoulders. Had the usual crafts been out there, including Frank’s [Quirarte], we would have been on Jacob much faster. Russel didn’t even see him until late because he was already helping somebody else.”

Photo of Saturday’s massive Maverick’s set wave taken by Don Montgomery. All rights reserved.