Surf Survival – The Most Rewarding (and Possibly Important) Feature I’ve Ever Written

by Chris Dixon


Photo: Eyeconic Images for Surfline. 

Back when I was around nine years old, I damn near drowned. I was a confident young swimmer, dog-paddling across a lake in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania. But about halfway across the 75-yard gap to the swimming dock, the distance began to stretch out like a hallway in a horror movie as I realized that I was getting really tired. I had yet to learn things like floating, back or crawl stroking. When you grow tired, you become nervous and burn even more energy in the struggle to keep your head above water, which makes you even more tired. I had a crystal clear moment to ponder my choices. One: Wave for help – but that meant pulling my churning arms out of the water. Two: Keep going to a dock that looked impossibly far. Three: Alter my course towards a walkway that was closer in the hopes that I could find a hand-hold. I chose the latter. Struggling like a sinking puppy, I vividly recall latching onto a slimy buoy as my energy completely flagged. One more foot and I’d have gone down. The lifeguard saw nothing.

In the wake of that traumatic moment, I wouldn’t say I became scared of the water, but I did become plenty more cautious. Five summers later, I beach monkeyed for a lifeguard who was a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor. He told me I was the youngest student he’d ever had receive a Red Cross lifesaving certification. A couple of years on, I earned my own WSI. In the years since, I can recall saving the lives of three children, and one grownup – all simply in the course of a day to day life on the water. With the kids, it was simply recognizing that they were drowning (when no one else did) and plucking them out of the water. With the panicked grownup, rip currents and crashing surf created a much heavier situation. Now that I have my own kids and do my damndest to pass on my experience I’ve not only realized that I’ve learned a lot in my 47 years, but also how much more I don’t know. 

Back Camera

Photo: Chris Dixon

All of which is to say that when Surfline offered me a gig writing a recurring series that we now call “Surf Survival” I leapt at the opportunity. To date, with the help of a team of surfing lifeguards and physicians, I’ve written five features, the most recent of which, “Water Rescue,” is probably the most important single story I’ve ever written. It contains some heavy video, but of course, dying isn’t pretty. Simply put, we built the feature to save your life – or someone you love more than life itself.


Photo: Quinn Dixon

I hope you’ll give the entire series, linked below, a solid chunk of your time, and consider getting training for yourself and purchasing the excellent book Surf Survival. As I write more Surfline futures, I’ll continue to update them on TheScuttle. — CD

Surf Survival – 5. Water Rescue.

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Surf Survival – 4. Know Your Injuries. Forget Sharks, this is how you’re really likely to be injured.

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Surf Survival – 3. Reading the Beach, Part 2.. Understanding The Lineup. 

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Surf Survival – 2. Reading the Beach, Part 1.Four Things to Worth Paying Attention to Before You Paddle Out.

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Surf Survival – 1. Initial Feature. Surfing First Aid and Lifesaving for the Rest of Us.

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