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“Meant to Be There”

(Stories of Water Rescues by every day Surfers and the Lives they Affected)


            Many of us who have spent time in the water over the years, surfing, swimming or diving can think of a time when we have had to use our abilities to save somebody that was in trouble. After the rescue, we’ve either said or thought, “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time”.  Fortunately, in most cases the person we rescued lives to surf or swim another day and, tragically, in other instances they aren’t so lucky. Regardless of the outcome, after the event, I believe, many of us start to think about how strange or perhaps, privileged we are,  to have been given the skills to be able to react in that particular situation in order to try to save someone’s life. In most cases, we aren’t trained emergency professionals.  I’m referring to the every day surfer, that spends time in the water, month after month, year after year and in an instant becomes a hero in somebody’s eyes.

            I was inspired to write this story after hearing about an incident that took place at a surf spot north of the Golden Gate Bridge. A 49 year-old local legend of Ocean Beach, Dirk Denny,  was surfing with his two daughters, one 13, the other 10 years old.

His wife was on the beach watching like she had done so many times in the past. It was a perfect day, sunny and glassy and there was a great vibe in the water. Everyone was sharing waves and having a great session.

            Another surfer in the water, Tim Ecke, a retired fireman who had been surfing in the Bay area for 40 years was also in the water. He knew Dirk from seeing him at the beach and talking story in the parking lot.  Tim’s life as a fireman and strong waterman had been blessed with two daughters of his own and he many times would smile and think of his own good fortune when he’d see Dirk heading out with his two young daughters, a mirror image of what Tim had done for years until his daughters grew up and went away to college.

            After a four hour session Tim and his buddy, Oscar,  a trained medic, decided they’d each catch one more wave and head in.  Oscar caught his first and rode it all the way to the beach.  Tim decided to wait for an extra special one to cap off a great day.  A nice right rolled through and it had Tim’s name on it. As he was riding it, a kid on the inside was struggling near a board and was yelling to him. Tim thought the kid was just making sure he didn’t hit the board as he went by. He kicked out next to him and could see something was seriously wrong. The kid wasn’t struggling with the board, he was struggling with what was attached to it. Tim grabbed the leash of the board that was floating on the surface and started to pull on it. He found Dirk at the end of it, unconscious and limp.

            Tim described the rest of the scene to me and said it was like it happened in slow motion. His training as a fireman kicked in and he brought Dirk to the beach and immediately started CPR on him. His buddy Oscar came running from the parking lot and they both continued to work on Dirk. They’d roll him on his side and water would pour from his mouth and lungs. By this time, Dirk’s two daughters were standing over Tim’s shoulder as he worked on their Dad. Dirk’s wife had rushed down from the parking lot and helped hold Dirk as well. Oscar headed up to the restaurant to call 911 and contacted a ranger that came with the defibrillator paddles. They shocked Dirk three times and continued CPR. After roughly twenty minutes a Helovac helicopter showed up and they got Dirk on a board and transported him to Petaluma hospital. Tim offered to drive Dirk’s wife and daughters to the hospital which was over an hour away. Anyone could imagine what that drive must have been like. This is one story that does not have a happy ending. Dirk Denny didn’t make it. Initial speculation was that he had a heart attack and the subsequent autopsy called it an accidental drowning.

            As Tim told me about what happened he made the comment that he “just felt like he was supposed to have been there.” I asked him if he’d ever read Mitch Albom’s book entitled, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”.  He said he hadn’t but that he would get it.  We talked about the chances of him and Oscar being in the water at the same time as Dirk. The fact that they were both trained in medical emergency rescue procedures and that they did everything possible to save Dirk’s life. Perhaps they were not able to save him but look at the other lives they affected. The two daughters will be able to go through life knowing that their Dad was given the best possible chance to survive. They won’t think about not knowing how to do CPR and if they could have possibly saved him if they had.

            I’m sure this rescue is much more dramatic than the ones that many of us have been involved in. But I’m sure we all had the same feeling afterward. The thought that perhaps all our time spent surfing or training in a pool was to prepare us for that one occasion when our abilities would be called into action in order to help save someone’s life. It is an amazing feeling to know that we are wired the way are and put on this earth perhaps for a bigger purpose.

            My goal is to have this be the first story of many. To collect rescue stories from every day surfers that did extraordinary things in someone’s time of need. And to look at the lives that they affected by their actions. The proceeds from the book will go to fund the “Fallen Waterman’s Foundation” and hopefully, we can help ensure that Dirk’s two daughters and other children of fallen watermen and women are able to live the lives that their parents would want them to live. The revenue generated by the Fallen Waterman’s Foundation will go towards the College tuitions for the children of Fallen Watermen or Women.

            If you have a story of your own or know someone that did something to help save somebody else, let me know, it doesn’t even have to be surfing related. The more heroes the better!

You can submit your story under the “Talk Story” tab at


Thanks for your interest and See you in the Water!

             Mark Hanley


            Fallen Waterman’s Foundation


One extra note and this goes out to any guys out there that are around 50 years old. The American Medical Association has stated what the number one symptom is in 50% of all  hearts attacks…do you know what it is?    It’s “sudden death”.  Even if you think you’re fit, your family history or blood chemistry might tell you a different story. Get your heart checked out, monitor your blood pressure and stress levels and get a blood test to see what your cholesterol ratios of HDL’s and LDL’s look like.  You can thank me later.

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