It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time that ended with a near-drowning victim making it home to his family, and a surfer becoming a hero. Rockaway Park resident George Hance’s surf session turned into a rescue effort when a young man started struggling in the ocean, and the whole rescue was caught on video.
As a bridge painter, George Hance is far from a lifeguard. “I’m actually a terrible swimmer,” he said. However, during the late afternoon of Wednesday, June 24, he became a hero on the waves on an unguarded beach. Hance said he happened to get off of work early that day and was supposed to go for a bike ride with his cousin, but when his buddy asked if he wanted to go surfing, he jumped at the opportunity on the beautiful, hot Wednesday afternoon.
Hance says he just picked up surfing about five years ago. With his nine-foot foam board in tow, he rode down to Beach 69th Street to meet up with his friend, Greg Uva. On days when the waves are good, Hance attaches his GoPro camera to his board to capture good footage during his surf sessions. After about 30 minutes on the waves, he didn’t realize his camera was still on when something bigger than a good wave caught his eye.
“I had noticed these three boys when they were in knee-high water and I had mentioned to my buddy how people always go swimming when they shouldn’t. Then I saw them up to their waist and I could see them drifting near the jetty. When you’re near the jetty, the water sucks you out,” Hance said. Then he heard a scream.
Unsure if the young men were in trouble, Hance decided to paddle closer. “I was hoping that they were fine, and I was just racing over for no reason. All I could think was to get there as fast as I can. People said I looked calm, but I was 100% panicking. I didn’t want to see a bad outcome. I figured I’d try my hardest,” Hance said. It was when he got closer that Hance’s fears came true. The young men were up to their necks in water. Two of the young men were attempting to help another friend who was struggling while swallowing water. As Hance paddled as fast as he could, he yelled to the boys to climb out by the jetty. Two of the young men were able to pull themselves onto the jetty and walk to the beach, as they watched their other friend struggle from the shoreline.
As Hance approached the struggling boy, he thought of his sons as the boy appeared to be close to the age of his own young teen. Hance encouraged the boy to climb on to his surf board. The boy, who appeared weak from trying to stay above the surface, struggled as he grabbed on to the board. At this time, Hance’s friend, Uva approached and helped to keep the boy on the board as Hance moved the board toward the beach. Although feeling panicked himself, with a calm voice, Hance spoke to the boy throughout the effort, saying “A wave’s coming, hold on, stay on the board.” As the boy struggled to recover, he was groaning and lacked the energy to fully pull himself up onto Hance’s board. “I was trying to catch my breath and at the same time, position him to lay flat on the board. He had zero strength,” Hance said.
However, within a few moments, Hance and Uva were able to bring the board to shallow water. As soon as Hance reached the shore, he picked the boy up from under his arms and dragged him to the beach so the boy could sit down and continue to recover.
As all three boys sat on the beach, the boy thanked the surfers for helping him. The surfers used it as a learning opportunity and explained the dangers of swimming without lifeguards, how the current near the jetty is known to pull people out, and how a number of people died last year while going into the water on unguarded beaches. They asked the boy if he needed an ambulance, but as he started to catch his breath and recover, they found it wasn’t necessary. Hance says the boys gave him their names, but as he rode his bike home, replaying the incident in his head as the adrenaline wore off, he forgot them. “All I could think about was what could have happened if God forbid, we hadn’t gone surfing there,” Hance said.
When he got home, Hance had realized the whole rescue was on his camera. He decided to share it to Facebook and Instagram for his friends, family and fellow surfers, using “Don’t swim without lifeguards” as the caption. “When I uploaded it, I thought of my friends and family who go to the beach and sometimes you hear about surfers saving someone, but you never see it,” Hance said. It wasn’t long before the video caught attention. “My mother-in-law asked if she could share it, so I changed the settings to public and it snowballed,” he said. Hance’s video quickly made its rounds around local social media pages, with more than 150 shares and 11.3K views.
Hance says he hopes the now-viral video serves as an important lesson for people to only go swimming when lifeguards are on duty, or at the very least, to know their own limits. “People shouldn’t be in the water when there aren’t lifeguards, but people are going to do what they want, so know your limits. If you’re not a great swimmer, you shouldn’t be out there. You never know with the ocean. I’m not a great swimmer myself, but I go out there with my board and I know my limits. I know there are days I can be out there and days where I shouldn’t be,” he said. “I’m glad this incident had a good outcome. It was a hard lesson and we often hear about drownings, but you rarely hear about the rescues, so it’s good for people to see a good outcome instead,” Hance said.
For Hance, it was the first time being in such a situation. “My first time, and hopefully the last. I don’t ever want to see someone in this situation. I’m just happy I was able to be there. Things happen for a reason.”
To see the video of Hance’s heroic rescue effort, head to www.facebook.com/george.hance.1
By Katie McFaddenBLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS