SAN FRANCISCO — A surfer who nearly drowned after being pummeled and washed through rocks by a big wave in Northern California is expected to recover, hospital officials said Tuesday.
A Stanford Hospital spokesman said 30-year-old Jacob Trette was in fair condition three days after he nearly drowned while attempting to surf Mavericks, a famous break about 20 miles south of San Francisco that has claimed a number of lives over the years.
Trette was rescued on Saturday by an Australian firefighter, Russell Ord, who was on a personal watercraft taking photographs of the surfers when a large "freak set" caught a pack of them too close to shore.
Saturday featured average-sized waves by Mavericks standards, maybe 15-to-18 foot surf, Ord said. The waves can get 30-foot or higher at certain times of year.
All of a sudden a rogue set of waves that Ord estimated at about 25 feet high appeared on the horizon.
"You could see that first wave coming, all of the surfers started paddling toward it," Ord told The Associated Press.
A group of about five surfers did not make it over the encroaching wave before it broke.
"I saw all the broken boards and people waving for help," he said.
If that wave alone were the only one, the surfers would have been able to get rescued quickly by Ord — but 20 seconds later another large wave crashed on the surfers who had been hit by the first.
In addition to taking pictures at the time, Ord was serving as a rescuer who would swoop in and grab surfers who wiped out or lost their boards.
After the whitewater calmed a bit, Ord said he drove his watercraft to a rocky area near where the waves break, and saw Trette’s body floating past the rocks.
"He looked gone to me," said Ord, who is used to rescue situations as a firefighter in Margaret River, Australia.
Ord helped rush Trette to the shore.
"He was making a minor choking or a coughing sound every 20 seconds or so," Ord said. "We dragged him up onto the beach and found a strong pulse. I was pretty surprised."
Trette was hospitalized in critical condition and placed in a medically induced coma.
Hospital officials say he’s now conscious, his vital signs are stable and "indicators are favorable."
Mavericks is best known for the big wave contest hosted there on years when the surf is unusually big. The waiting period for this year’s contest began Dec. 1 and extends through February.