IRVINE, CA --- For the most part, Sunday, Nov. 14 was an average day of surfing at the beach. Below average, in fact, considering that Drew Wissler, Chris Spriggs and Eric Anderssen had each considered cashing in the day before the sun went down. The trio of Concordia swimmers had been unimpressed with the surf all day, and Wissler had joined his teammates for one last go at catching a Salt Creek Beach wave an hour before dusk was to set in.
But as Wissler caught his only wave of the day, he saw a body lying face-down in the water below with a surfboard floating nearby.
Wissler, 20, immediately sprung into action and began paddling to the fallen surfer, who turned out to be 16-year-old Austin Brooks, a high school junior and member of the surf team at Aliso Niguel High School.
"As soon as I saw the body in the water, I started to paddle toward him," Wissler said. "When I got closer, I was almost sure that the kid was going to be paralyzed at best, and already drowned at worst. There was a window of less than a minute, where if we didn't find him, he would have died."
With Wissler rushing to the aid of Brooks, Anderssen and Spriggs knew immediately that something major was happening.
Spriggs, who has served as a beach lifeguard in Ventura County, put his skills to work, attempting to revive Brooks and keep him from choking as he struggled to regain consciousness, while Anderssen cradled the boy's head.
"We had all three fallen hard throughout the day, because of the way the waves were hitting the beach," Spriggs, 24, said. "There was only about six inches of water on a pretty steep bank, and so we knew we had to be careful about positioning his body because of the way he must have fallen."
While his teammates were occupied trying to revive Brooks, who would cough up water for a matter of minutes before more help could arrive, Wissler found a phone and called 911.
Emergency personnel responded within 10 minutes, and Brooks' parents arrived shortly thereafter to accompany him to nearby Mission Hospital, where he was discharged Monday. Brooks was succinct when asked what he would have to say to the three Concordia student-athletes who saved his life. "I would say ‘thank you,'" he quipped. The Concordia trio's involvement in the incident, which occurred just hours after surfers all over the world-including those at Salt Creek Beach-honored the memory of late former pro surfer Andy Irons with a paddle out. Irons, a three-time Surfing America Prime champion, had passed away earlier in the month at just 32 years old, reportedly due to a non-surfing related illness. "This really puts things into perspective, especially on the day when a surfing great was remembered," Anderssen, 22, said. "When I'm out surfing, a lot of times, I think that I'm invincible and that nothing besides a shark attack or something bizarre like that could hurt me. This just goes to show you that these things can happen, and you just have to do your best to be careful and stay alert." While the prevention of one tragedy on the same day as the remembrance of another could be taken as no more than an ironic coincidence, there is more to the fact that all three Concordia student-athletes stayed longer than they would have on an ordinary day. Nobody can say what would have happened to Brooks had the trio gone home when they first wanted to. And Wissler, Spriggs and Anderssen are just fine with that. "I was ready to go about an hour before all of this happened," Spriggs said. "Usually, when I'm ready to go, I'll just get out of the water and stand by my board so that the other guys will see me and get out, but for some reason, I just stayed in. "There was definitely a more important reason for why we stayed, even though we didn't know what that was at the time."