Drownings are a tragic component of our sport, and every year there are stories of someone disappearing into the abyss below the waterline. More often than not, the lack of adequate flotation is a key component of the tragedy. Years ago, the wakeboarding community lost a well-known progressive rider named Corey Kraut, and recently, this sad situation nearly repeated itself.
While Chad Sharpe is wearing a life jacket in the crash video above, during another session he was out for a casual pull without a life jacket on when he found himself in a precarious and helpless position — under the water, upside down and completely immobile.
“I was just messing around, having some fun and my BS 5 was not going so well,” Sharpe says. “I was turning the last 180 really late and having some trouble with it.”
The following are excerpts from a blog posted by Chad, intimately describing the greatest moment of desperation in his life. To read the full post, go to funwhenwet.com.
… So I cut in for the [backside 540] and … the next thing I realize is I am 180 upside down in the water looking up at my board and light at the top of the water. Not such a bad thing, just swim up and wait for the boat to get back, right? That’s what I thought until I tried to swim up and my whole body is not working at all, it’s just fuzzy and tingling but not moving. Panic time.
So I still had a whole breath and am looking at the top trying not to panic. I actually am floating up slowly so going through my head is “You still have a whole breath, you’re slowly going up, the boat has got to be back soon, don’t panic and save your breath.” The closer I got to the top of the water the more my hands were starting to move. By the time I hit the top Scott was very close, I was yelling to get back but my hands were only slapping the top of the water. Scott pulled me on the platform and it took a good couple minutes to get my movement back in the whole body.
The day this happened was a cold one in Orlando and Chad was wearing a wetsuit. As it was just a casual riding day, he didn’t intend to be working on moves where heavy falls are common — it was just a maintenance pull. Still, he made an atypical decision — he chose to ride that day without a life jacket. “No excuse and a very bad idea,” Chad says.
We are lucky still to have Chad with us. If he had not had that whole breath of air, we could be telling a different, and horribly sadder, story. Further, as an industry we are fortunate to have a rider who is one of the pillars of the pro scene for the past decade give us a firsthand recount of such a harrowing experience to ensure that others don’t make the same bad decision he did that day. Chad’s final statement in the blog is something we can all live by: “WEAR A VEST.”
Words: Jeff Barton