9. Fort Pierce Heavy Surf Rescue
KITEBOARDERS TO THE RESCUE!!!
Ft. Pierce Inlet, Florida in calmer times
Click for full size image
Ft. Pierce had strong wind in the high teen and twenty mph range for about five days out of the northeast
leading up to Sunday, April 30, 2006. Ft. Pierce Inlet is famous for going off with big surf under such conditions.
There were a bunch of riders out tearing it up in the surf and the calmer areas in the lee of the jetty to the south.
Sunday afternoon the several day run of strong winds was starting to ease around 3:30 pm as the tide flooded out with
low tide. The tide was blasting at 5 to 6 kts. into the face of onrushing heavy seas creating 10 to 12 ft. swells
breaking around the end of the jettys. I understand these were the biggest wave conditions in the inlet in the last
year. The wind was about 18 to 20 kts. NE initially. Three big breaker zones had setup starting at about 1/2
mile from shore. Ft. Pierce is an outstanding wave riding venue when the northerly winds cook off.
Greg Kuklinski or GK told me about the rescue and was onshore shooting video of the action. Greg appears in a
number of the big wave photos. He was one of the first kiteboarders in Ft. Pierce, a community of core watermen
and windsports addicts. Based upon long experience Greg felt the circumstances in the inlet were definitely
life threatening. He tells me the waves last Sunday were at least as big as those shown in the photos included in
It does get big out there around the end of the inlet jetties. GK having a blast in the heavy surf at the inlet.
This photo and several big wave images to follow courtesy of George Saunders with http://kiteflix.com/ .
Many of these images were captured from the DVD "Aerial Assault."
A swell meets the jetty
Doug floats over some of the calmer stuff
Doug Smith was riding inside the inlet on a 19 m Best kite. Doug is an active kiteboarder who rides in Lake
Huron/Lake St Clair in the summer and in Florida in the winter. Doug has been a regular at Florida events for years.
Doug was joined by Mike Gebhardt in ripping along in the inlet on a 9 m Crossbow. Mike along with Kent
Marinkovic were both on the USA Olympic windsurfing team and together won the first Florida to Bimini, Bahamas
kiteboarding race last December. I remember trying to get off the beach myself to race to Bimini in 0 to 6 mph offshore
breeze seeing Mike and Kent's kites WAAAY offshore in the distance. Mike globe trots these days training Olympic
windsurfing hopefuls in foreign lands.His latest pupil, Gal or "Wave" in hebrew, Fridman won the Gold Medal for
Men's Windsurfing in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Gal captured the first Olympic Gold Medal ever for Israel in
any event. In addition to being sponsored by Cabrinha, Gebi has also been a rider for Dakine, for 25 years!
Mike Gebhardt and Kent Marinkovic racing for Cabrinha all the way to Bimini to capture first place. (Photo credit: Guido Fleck)
The guys weren't alone as a teenager along with his girlfriend and sister were surfing a new 17 ft. center console
boat in the swells. They had been charging before swells into the calmer deep channel area and back again for
about a half hour.
The boat may have looked something like this
The guy must have been distracted as he was heading in or westward in the inlet near the end of the south jetty
when a wave caught up with them and spilled over the transom of the boat. This effectively killed the
outboard. The current then started to rush the boat stern first seaward into mounting seas. Doug was within 20 ft.
of the boat and had a real bad feeling coming on. Another big wave broke over the boat, swamping it. Then
another and as fast as that the boat was almost submerged but for the bow sticking straight up out of the
water. The guy and the two girls were in the water surrounded by floating debris, life jackets, gas tank, tool box, etc.
hauling eastward with the rushing current. The girls were screaming, obviously a bit disturbed by developments.
The guy managed to find his sister's surfboard and was paddling around. Doug came in, trying to calm the guy's
girl friend down asked her to hold on to him so he could take her to shore. Remember the lot are rushing
towards some closed out surf a short distance to seaward. Doug told the other two to stay with the boat as other
kiteboarders would be there to help soon.
Click for full sized image
This is what the sunken boat and trio were drifting into fast!
Gebi came up and picked up the sister. The kiters had a problem, not only heavy surf to the east but the out
rushing current was making heading to the south very hard to do. The wind was easing off at this time making
the guys have to sine their kites heavily just to try to gain ground. They were probably 300 ft. east of the jetties.
before they could start to bear to the south. Eventually they got far enough south to escape much of the
current at which point they were able to turn to the west and head into the beach in the lee of the south jetty.
Mike had a fairly light passenger and so with some pretty intense sining was able to plane with them both up on
his board for about 100 to 200 yards at a go.
Mike gives an interview in Bimini. (Photo credit: Guido Fleck)
Doug's still up there
Doug had his hands full with his girl as he didn't have enough power to pull them both up on plane and she was
still a bit hysterical for about ten minutes or roughly half way to shore. Doug calmed her down through
reassurances and by giving her a kiteboarding lesson on the spot. Doug kept his board of his feet in front of
them and body dragged in this position. Initially his passager was strangling him but he was able to get
her to shift her grip to his harness. Eventually Doug's passenger even seemed to lighten up a bit and even
enjoy the ride somewhat.
Dave Deberard was the third rider to come up. Dave is 6'2", 200 lbs., is sponsored by Slingshot, DC Boards,
Jupiter Kiting has been a regular at Florida kiteboarding events since 2002, and just turned 15 years old
wthin a day of the rescue.. True story, I can remember when Dave was fairly short, no longer! Dave told me the
wave/current conditions at the inlet were "spooky" given how big things were running.
Dave throws one
Dave came up to the guy, floating on his girlfriends surfboard. The guy grabbed Dave's suicide leash which
made a pretty fair tow point as he skidded along on the surfboard. Dave was on a 13 m Fuel kite. I asked Dave
how he thought the three might have faired if the kiteboarders hadn't come along so quickly? He said the
guy was decked out in heavy pants, sweatshirt and boots. Unless the guy could have ditched this stuff absent
the surfboard of course he thought the fellow might have had a rough time pulling through passing into the
breaking surf. If the girls had managed to put on the life jackets they should have been picked up fairly beaten
and waterlogged but perhaps some miles from shore.
Young, big Dave
The USCG was on the scene in about ten minutes. They have a base within a mile to the west of the inlet.
Still, the three had already been picked up. As the riders headed towards shore, Ft. Pierce's finest had
arrived in force. Dave said there were about a dozen police cars, flashers going on the shore. The
sheriff's department even sent a chopper out. Each of the riders deposited their charges on the shore
in turn and headed back out for some more riding. The wind had regained some strength, so why not?
The seas were too heavy for the USCG to do much with the boat. I understand it beached some miles to the south.
GK hangs out with some of the Ft. Pierce troops at the recent Kite4Girls. He is opening a beach front kiteboarding
shop ( http://www.tckiteboard.com/ ) in Ft. Pierce just south of the inlet and next door to a beach bar. It's
going to be interesting!
Well done to Doug, Mike and Dave on your rescue. Kiteboarders are often exceptional watermen and great
to have around when the going gets tough. We LIKE heavy seas (with enough wind) and can often move fairly
easily through them, even more so than some rescue craft. This is not the first nor the last kiter rescue.
Great winds and times to you all and WAY TO GO!!! More stories of heroic deeds of kiteboarders can be
p.s. - HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVE! Hope you received at least a tenth as much as you gave. Thanks guys.
Copyright FKA, Inc. 2006
Last edited by RickI; 08-22-2007 at 08:01 AM.
Confused by kiter jargon? No worries, check out the glossary at:
Oh, here's a term that doesn't appear in the glossary:
suicide leash = a type of kite depowering leash
or cord intended to halt the pull of the kite if the control bar
is dropped (almost, hence the "suicide" modifier). An
example appears as that black ropey thing in the photo below.
Still have questions? Just ask away.
A good question came up on http://bayareakiteboarding.com/viewtopic.php?t=2990
Important, talk with them from a distance, making sure they understand what you wish to do and are rational. Panicked victims can effectively drown rescuers if things go poorly.
"Always approach the situation cautiously,
choose the suportive role if in doubt,
actively rescue only when safe to do so."
Once you are more at ease with your gear, your options will become better known to you almost naturally. It is best to study a situation before engaging in it to try to plan around difficulties and not inadvertently make things worse for them or yourself. The wind speed, direction, wave and current conditions, how much kite power you have to use and where you need to take your passenger should factor into your analysis. You might be able to make good speed on your own body dragging but with the added weight and drag of a passenger you may not. You don't want to lose control of your kite and have it go down in the middle of things either. Nearby inlets, adverse currents, changing seas all should be considered if applicable. I usually carry about a 20 ft. section of 1/8 inch nylon line in my impact vest. It makes setting up to tow people fairly easily. Most of the time, you may not be able to get up on a plane like Gebi. Having a light girl and Olympic background can help along having done tandem runs before.
Most of the time you will be stuck body dragging like Doug did. I hadn't thought of keeping my board on my feet and dragging in that fashion. That very likely saved him from losing his board. Still, keeping the board adds a lot of drag, costs speed and ability to ride closer to the wind if necessary. A lot of this comes down to choices. If you do manage to keep your board and if it is safe to leave your charge, e.g. they have a life jacket, you might even have the option of riding into shore for help at speed if necessary.
Dave had an easier time because his guy already was on a surfboard AND he had a tow point. Normally you want a tow line at least ten feet long to keep them from hammering into you. I recall Dave telling me he was getting slammed by the guys board at one point. So, carrying a thin towline can pay dividends.
Kiteboarders are sometimes adept watermen. Thinking the problem through, having some minor aids along and then acting for effect can make a difference for some poor soul and add to a kiters day. It also gives me something interesting to write about!
Other ideas out there?
Rick, Did you know ? ? ?
Did you know,
That Steve Schafer took the two pictures of me, (Doug Smith), that you used in this story, earlier that year, at a place called Hermans Bay which is located Mid Hutchinson Island, Florida, just south of the FP&L Nuclear Power Plant on the Atlantic side in a 20~30 mph West Southwest straight off shore wind. It is a very narrow, one mile or so strip on the island that was almost striped clean of trees and their leaves by the 2004 Hurricane Season. No one had ever tried kiteboarding there because it breaks some kiteboarding safety rules, but we had been thinking about the Flat Water / Clean Wave Possibilities and it turned out to be a Great Idea and Fun Photo Shoot as we took turns on and off the water. The sad thing is I never got to see what we took of him there that day !
Great Memories ! ! !
He will be missed greatly by all who knew him !