A Real Hero of Sunset Cliffs

by on October 9, 2017 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

Matthew Alford

The Widder Curry writes: On Friday morning, October 6th, Matthew Alford was surfing off of Hill Street and Sunset Cliffs.  This is his own story, as posted in Next Door.  Nice to read a good story!  Matthew is a professor at La Jolla Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Wow. An amazing thing happened this morning while I was surfing: I saved a life.

I was surfing my favorite high tide spot at Sunset Cliffs and people on the cliff started yelling and pointing. A woman had fallen off the cliff and was getting swept by the waves toward the rocks.

I paddled over. She could barely swim – she was disoriented, exhausted and terrified and about to go under. I got her onto my surfboard and kept reassuring her she was going to be OK but she was pretty delirious and barely spoke English (she was from Quebec).

I first tried to get her over to the nearby beach but quickly realized that was way too far in her condition. People on the cliffs were trying to get me to get her backpack which was getting pounded on the rocks but I left that.

So we went straight in where I knew the bottom was pretty flat, though we would still have to climb up a bunch of big rocks. As we worked our way over, a few 3-4′ waves washed over us, big enough to really scare her. Each time I held onto her and made sure she stayed on the surfboard.

She kept saying “I’m going to die.” I kept telling her she wasn’t and that she would be OK.

Then a couple of other surfers arrived and one grabbed my board for me and the other grabbed her backpack from the rocks. We made it in and she collapsed onto the rocks. Her legs were pretty bloody, I guess from her initial fall.

By this time the lifeguards and firemen were there and they tried to help her up the rocks but she refused to let go of me, calling me her hero and saying again and again that I had saved her life.

I actually am pretty sure that I did save her life – amazing I was in the right place at the right time because as fast as the lifeguards got there, she was not going to make it.

And get this – the lifeguards and police took down my info and told me I might get nominated for citizen rescue of the year!

I’ve never saved a life before, it’s quite surreal. Just so very glad I was there and had the skills to be able to help her. And grateful for our San Diego’s awesome lifeguards and the three other surfers who helped.

Be careful at the Cliffs!!

And there is another nice closure to this story.  The woman that fell, Kym Fontaine, from Quebec, lost her wallet while sight-seeing at the cliffs. The daughters of Judy Van Woy found it and managed to contact Ms. Fontaine and returned the wallet to her.  A wonderful ending to what could have been a real tragedy.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

judi October 9, 2017 at 11:52 am

And we can add one more positive to this story. Ms. Fontaine and Matthew made contact with each other and she expressed her sincere gratitude for the rescue. She is the mother of a 10 year old child.

Again Matthew – you are our hero.


Judy Dibble October 9, 2017 at 8:33 pm

thank you for your courage in saving a visitor from a remarkable country.


Debbie October 9, 2017 at 11:07 pm

I love great stories. You rock Matthew!!!


Geoff Page October 11, 2017 at 12:50 pm

It’s great to see a surfer getting recognition for rescuing someone in the water, this kind of recognition doesn’t happen often enough. Anyone who has spent a lot of time in the water surfing or diving or boating probably has a story or two to tell. In my 66 years, I have a few but my favorite was when I rescued a woman and her dog at Dog Beach.

I was heading out one day and there was a nice rip from the small jetty out to the break. As I was going out, I encountered a pit bull swimming for all his might against the rip trying to reach the beach. He was panting hard and was getting nowhere. I grabbed him by the collar and paddled in until his feet hit the sand. Then, as I was heading back out, I passed a woman who looked like she was treading water. I heard very softly “help me” that sounded kind of odd. She said it again as I came alongside her and I asked if she was OK because it didn’t look or sound like she was in trouble. She said it again and I saw she was in distress so I pulled he onto my board. As soon as she could speak, she asked if I had seen her dog and I told her I had already resuced him. A lifeguard met us halfway and took over.

I learned a valubale piece of information about drowning victims. They don’t thrash around and scream like you see in the movies. Her behavior and the soft sound of her pleas were classic drowning indicators. It would be good if everyone read up on this because it is not intuitive at all.

So my hat’s off to Matt and all the other ocean men and women who watch out for people in the water and for making many unheralded rescues. And, it feels really good, as Matt expressed here, because you have actually helped or even saved someone. That lady was lucky Matt was there.


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