Accidental Drownings in Puerto Rico

Wednesday Updater 3/8/23 Wave WX 5am Report

Not a good place to swim.

Yesterday, the waves were really good so I surfed 3 sessions. The last one I went back out with the go pro at Domes to get some photos from the water- On my way in I’m surfing my last wave, a right all the way down to the rocks. At the last second before turning towards shore I look right and there’s this guy swimming alone and he’s stuck in the rip next to the rocks and I asked him if he was ok- he said ‘I don’t think so’ so I stayed to try and help him as a big set unloaded on us we were maybe 20ft from the rocks. I was duck diving relentless waves and he could not make any progress against a river like rip current. In less than a minute(counting 12 seconds between 4 set waves) I had to assess the situation and decide what to do- I paddled past him and told him to follow me. We started swimming with the rip and made it out past the beak without another set hitting us. After 1 minute of intense drama it was over, we were safe outside the break. I shared my board with him and we swam south around the lighthouse towards Indicators. It was a 20 minute swim to safety and 2 other surfers saw us and came and helped us. The local body boarder Juan actually gave the guy his boogie board to get in at Indy, lots of solid waves down there. Robert Ferrer helped us get to shore( thanks to the locals). The kid kept apologizing to me but I was just glad to help. We’re pretty much friends now.

I’m only posting this bc it was a real life situation. One you could be faced with and looking back I think it was the right call not to fight the rip. Many of you reading this have rescued people from the same spot and also dealt with the trauma of failed rescues and never posted it on social media. I’m only posting this to try and help when the inevitable happens again. I wanted to talk about it at the safety mtg yesterday, I raised my hand to bring it up but it was too busy to get in so I’m bringing it up now…. Every situation is different but in this case we had to paddle out. We would have been pushed into the rocks for sure. Many people have died in that spot. Every day people are trying to swim there… still, I wonder… I surf 3 times a day like very rarely. I’m just glad I went out for that last session and caught that last wave all the way down and happened to look right at last moment. Crazy…

This is Toni Lopez, she was 49.

Caribbean WX

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On my mind today are all the accidental drownings down here:

PR Beaches a Death Pit? I think PR is the perfect storm for accidental drownings. Beautiful Caribbean island with lots of visitors and locals wanting to be at the beach and it’s hot so go for a swim. All it takes is about 3-4ft of N Atlantic swell to start the rip currents going. I’ve even got stuck in 4-5knt currents while snorkeling off the beach in flat waters. There may be a few lifeguards in the Metro area at the famous public beaches but most of the island has no lifeguards, signs are posted usually way back at the beach access is Spanish. The beach here looks so amazing, the water unreal. Perfect temp, so blue, jump in… A lot of the beaches drop off steep into deeper water so you think your wading in stomach deep water and all of a sudden your getting sucked out in a river. Normally during summertime when conditions are calm these beaches are just great for a swim but throw in some swell and they become death pits. I’ve counted 6 drownings so far this season and I’m sure I’ve missed a couple. It’s an epidemic here, way more dangerous than any virus but not much is being done to prevent accidental drownings. And if your in trouble don’t think the EMT is going to rescue you.

Close Call: This was like 2006, I was at Sebastian Inlet with my oldest daughter. We had a great day together. We went to pick up boards from BAT in IHB, visited the Viera Preserve and watched bald eagles and deer. So we’re at SI and she is 6 and she really wants me to take her for a swim. The surf was 6ft but breaking way outside and we are in the shore-break. We get pulled towards the jetty then pulled the other direction towards Spanish House and then all of a sudden we get pulled straight out. We’re getting sucked into deeper water and I start to lose my energy holding onto her. Thank God a surfer was right there and helped us get back to shore. Surfers are always the first line of defense. Another time, like January 2011, my kids got sucked into the longshore rip at Pistons and two surfers rescued them. Over the decades we’ve had some close calls and it’s always the surfers that save people…
I can’t really count how many people I’ve helped over the years whether it was in Florida or PR but I’m always super wary and nervous seeing swimmers in dangerous situations.

An email I received this week: “Hi Micah,

I’ve seen your posts about Toni, and it definitely seems you were close. I’m sorry for your and her family’s loss.

My wife and I were there when it happened (she was there before me). And for what it is worth, there were some amazing regular people
who really went to incredible lengths to save her. For example, two young girls dove in to try to bring her to shore, and when they struggled
a man in a blue shirt dove in to help. He was shredded by the reef, but kept helping. I arrived around this time, and several normal people
immediately started chest compressions. A man in a red shirt took over and helped organize people taking turns with compressions. My wife was on the phone
with emergency services from the beginning and for at least 1hr, calling for help from every place she could find.

The “we will never know” part of this is that when emergency services showed up, they walked incredibly slowly and didn’t have the right equipment. They
also didn’t take over chest compressions for a while. They didn’t use respiratory equipment and their IED had a dead battery. It took 40 minutes for an ambulance with
a charged IED to arrive. I’m not trying to be negative about people who try to help, but I’m wondering if there is a way to get them better training and teach them how to
maintain equipment.

But the most important thing I was hoping to convey to you is that regular people (young and old) risked a lot to try to help Toni. I’m hopeful that she knew how much
people were trying to save her and cared so deeply. Maybe that gave her a bit of comfort, at least I want to believe that.

Again, I’m sorry that you lost a friend. It seems she was loved by so many.

I hope it is ok that I shared this with you, but having been there when she passed has really impacted my wife and me.


he gave me permission to share this publicly

RIP Toni.

74 thoughts on “Accidental Drownings in Puerto Rico

  1. Al

    Tuesday 2-21-23 at TI at 4pm-7pm was 2-3ft glassy conditions, and was one of those unexpected swells that just built up in the afternoon, after being relatively flat until about 3pm. There was only 5 of us out there and it was really fun.
    Hopefully it happens again today.

  2. admin Post author

    i saw some WNW seas on the models plus a seabreeze=rideable waves, that’s awesome man thanks for letting us know-

  3. hd

    i guess i dont have to be upset that ill miss the red tide swell, traveling this weekend…noticed a little bit in pinellas sat morning…

  4. admin Post author

    i was out on the water for hours this weeknd and IMO it wasnt that bad, hope it does not get worse-Ian leftovrs

  5. Cole

    As someone who has grown up here and spent my childhood on AMI…. Followed your reports for the better part of 15+yrs, this “red tide” stuff has just gotten beyond believable. No one in FL could convince me it’s just red tide. Massive runoff and fertilizer from over development has to be a major contributor. It’s insane, I’ve never seen it last thru the winter and cold water and as a kid I rarely remember red tide at all. Now it’s basically year around. And we’re just supposed to deal with it. It’s a total crock of u know what! Good luck tryin to surf . Might as well head east anytime you wanna get wet.

  6. Skrims

    Cole…. I’ve been having this same conversation over and over for the past week. My wife and I both grew up local and I’ve been skimming/surfing/fishing these waters for the better part of 35 years. I can only remember maybe 5 times surfing in red tide when I was younger. It was an event, not the norm.

    I’m terrified that we have destroyed the very thing that has made us who we are. The water. Too many people, too many cars, too many new developments with all sewers leading to the bay. We are in trouble!

  7. RUSS-D

    I 100% agree with you guys. I will be 55 in a few weeks and have been here my whole life. Red Tide was never something that lasted and lasted. It came and it went. I also think we have killed our waters and it is going to be difficult, if not impossible to fix it. And if the water dies so does the economy around here. Look around at the beach cams today and it isn’t all that crowded on the beaches. Let’s just hope that someday Red Tide does go away.

  8. Cb

    So what happened to this swell? Buoys had the numbers, but the local beaches seemed smaller than anticipated.

  9. Ernie

    TDawg what kind of blessing is getting poisoned at our local breaks? All the dead sea life? All the businesses that will be affected, again? Please surf until your body absorbs all the chemicals in the water, so we can get you tested in a lab, and maybe get a better idea of what is going on. Ill take crowds over poison.

  10. Tdawg

    Hey Ernie, I’m the consummate cynic , what can I tell you , ain’t gonna get better , may time you face it

  11. aber

    To a certain extent, maybe things will have to get really bad before red tide will change. Worse than now? I think so. Bring back the epic outbreak from a year ago into the bay, into the channels of all the people that live here, shut down the tourist season so this is national news.

    I love the gulf like a family member, we grew up together, so many good times. But now, that family member is on drugs, a shell of what it used to be. I’m sick of it, over it. I’d rather skate or go to the east coast. Feeling helpless about the situation because those that don’t use the ocean, don’t care. Historically, this area of the gulf is used as a toilet for runoff and watershed. It’s not an issue for the masses of Florida (yet) Almost every day there is a spill, a discharge, and we find out about it days or weeks later.

    Accepting the fact that its here is facing reality – There will be moments of clean water here and there, but the new normal is red tide. Welcome to the new free Florida everyone!

  12. admin Post author

    every time I come back there are more people, more houses, more traffic, it’s just consequences, agree with you Abe…

  13. Fuggin

    Here’s another red tide map, I do find the FWC one to be accurate byt only updated every 2-3days. It’s really frustrating and I’ve sat out the last 2 swells over the red tide. I refuse to get sick over some 2-3ft waves. The fish kill is pretty significant in Sarasota Bay this time and it really stinks. I’m considering selling the house and moving from this spoiled coast. I agree, it’ll probably get worse before and effort to fix it happens.

  14. Rob

    Great shots of you Weeves. You are surfing like you are in your 20’s. Ripping.

    Regarding the position of the high, if it’s in the right spot in the ATL… it can park there and give literal days of waves on the right tide. There was one summer years ago where I surfed little knee high waves on that blue Bob board I had for like 3 weeks.

    It doesn’t sound like much, but the simple position of it being further to the south can get you in the water for sure.

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