Along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean while waiting for the first big Mavericks set, stood most of big-wave surfing's elite, having arrived from Hawaii the night before. The famed Eddie Aikau big-wave event was called off due to a lack of consistent big waves as well as The Jay at Mavericks. But this gave them the opportunity to head back over to Pillar Point to chase the same swell and hopefully get a few big waves before heading back to their respective home breaks.
Unfortunately, the swell forecast to peak Saturday at Mavericks got ahead of forecasters and reached its apex a day early.
On this day, Mavericks was holding a relatively consistent 12 to 15 feet, and it was business as usual under beautiful, sunny offshore conditions -not big by big-wave standards so most of the pros opted not to paddle out.
This also held true for most of the Jet Ski photographers who would normally go out as well. They wanted to avert a possible $600 fine for violating the recent NOAA ban on personal watercraft out at Mavericks. That same group includes some of Mavericks most experienced PWC water rescuers.
At approximately 9:35 a.m. Saturday, after what would have been considered a small day at Mavericks, Jacob Trette was out of position due to his inexperience at the famed big-wave spot. He was sucked over the falls on a 25-foot set wave. It was basically a rouge set for the day but not really that unexpected if you ask any of the veterans. It was only Trette's second time out at Mavericks. His first paddle out to Mavericks was the day before.
He tried to escape the wave by paddling over the top, a move that most experienced big-wave surfers would tell you not to attempt. Back in 1995, up-and-coming surf star Donnie Solomon was pitched over a wave at Waimeai Bay in Hawaii. He essentially tried escaping the same way. He was pitched with the lip and held down for two waves, just like Trette, and never came up. His body was eventually found, but Solomon didn't survive.
The giant set wave caught the entire pack off guard and sent boards and bodies flying. Most of the crew escaped by ditching their boards and swimming through the face of the wave. Although there were two PWCs out at Mavericks on that morning, only one rider decided to lend a hand. Russell Ord, an Australian photographer, was on Ken "Skindog" Collins' borrowed Jet Ski and bringing in Alex Bottello, who'd been cleaned up on the set as well.
As the two came back in to the Mavericks' fore bay to retrieve Bottello's board, they came across Trette's board. Bottello jumped off to retrieve it and a local kayaker pointed out to Ord "something" floating just north of them. Bottello hopped off the ski to grab Trette's board. Ord rode over to investigate and found Trette face down in the water. He jumped off his ski and loaded his limp body on the rescue sled. Bottello got back on the ski and used his own body to hold Trette on the sled. Ord then headed in to the beach and actually landed the highly maneuverable Jet Ski right up on the sand.
Once on the beach, they received help from Mavericks surfer and EMT/nursing student Jeff Mustille from Pacifica, along with River O'Mahoney Hagg and other bystanders. They attempted to get as much water out of Trette as they could and then started CPR. Cliff spotters saw the drama unfolding and called the Harbor Patrol and 911.
CalFire hit the beach pretty quickly. Half Moon Bay Fire Battalion Chief Ari Delay just happened to be in the area and heard the call. They were able to regain a pulse and stabilize him as the rest of the rescue units rolled in. They got him stabilized enough to call in LifeFlight. The chopper had to make a tight landing on the point. They loaded Trette into the awaiting aircraft and with its skids actually in the water they lifted off and flew him to Stanford.
Don Montgomery, an integral part of the volunteer Mavericks Rescue Team, said he hopes the incident rings loud in the ears of NOAA and that they reconsider their position on allowing PWCs in the sanctuary for volunteer rescue purposes when Mavericks breaks, at any height.
I'm not sure how this tragedy will play itself out, but there are valuable lessons to be learned. With the popularity of Mavericks and its allure to a host of up-and-coming surfers trying to make a name for themselves, or even as a personal challenge, Mavericks is dangerous and unpredictable at any height. Know your limitations.
As it stands, PWCs are only allowed at Mavericks when a high-surf warning is announced by the National Weather Service and that's only between the months of December and January. Hopefully NOAA will now loosen up its stance and be more receptive to a volunteer rescue team when Mavericks breaks. That will be up to the teams and NOAA to sit down at a table and discuss at another time.
According to Jacob's brother John, as of Tuesday, Jacob has awakened from his medically induced coma and is recovering nicely. He's laughing and joking with his family.
"He remains at Stanford but will paddle on to many more swells," John said.
Frank Quirarte is director of water operations and logistics for The Jay at Mavericks Invitational and a longtime Mavericks photographer.
If you would like to do dangerous things you will have to accept that danger is involved. You would think that would be obvious. Apparently not. The risk these surfers are facing is not unavoidable, instead they must go to great lengths to expose themselves to it. I have no problem with people putting themselves at risk, but I think it is just silly to expect an exception - environmental or otherwise - in the name of safety. If surfers would like to be safe, I suggest they find another place to surf. If they would like to ride the wave of adrenaline and danger, they will need to come to terms with the reality that the ocean, give enough chances, will kill them.
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