Dave Benjamin, executive director of public relations for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, found his passion for water safety during a non-fatal drowning accident in 2010. Here is his story.
"I've been swimming in Lake Michigan for 42 years, my whole life. On December 26, 2010, the day after Christmas, I was surfing in Portage, Ind. ... I decided I'm going to catch a wave, and ride it in, and call it a day.
At the last second, I kind of looked over my shoulder and there was this big wave. It seemed like a rogue wave because the waves were about 6 or 8 feet and this one seemed about 10 feet. I went for it late. The whole thing crashed on me and put me in the bottom of the water. I didn't feel a tug on my ankle, which is my leash. My velcro had come undone.
I had inhaled some water going down so I was kind of starting to panic underwater. When I finally got back up and tried getting a breath, another wave hit and pulled me right back down to the bottom. Now I'm panicking even more. When I come back up, I see my board. The waves that day were pushing me to a rock wall that was completely iced over. My board is already on the rockwall, getting smashed into the rocks. Another wave crashed down and held me under and I'm kind of, at this point, resigned. This is it. I'm not going home today. I'm going to drown today.
When I'm being held underwater and holding my breath, I remembered an article I read called "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning," by Mario Vittone. [Vittone] is a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, as well as a trainer now, and in the article he discusses instinctive drowning response, which is a climbing-the-ladder motion in water, hyperventilating and gasping. When you're above water, your mouth is right at water level and your head is back. While I was doing all the signs of instinctive drowning response, I said, Hey, maybe if I stop doing this, I'll be ok. So when I got back up to the surface, I just put my arms out and my feet up and I floated. I calmed myself down, I got my air back, you know, I got my breathing back to normal.
From there, Benjamin made it to shore by following the Flip, Float and Follow strategy.
"FLIP, FLOAT, FOLLOW"
The flip, float and follow saying was created by the Michigan Sea Grant to be memorable and help save people in a drowning incident.
Flip over onto your back and figure out which way the current is flowing.
Float to keep your head above water and conserve energy.
Follow the current until it weakens. Rip currents dissipate quickly as they move away from the shore into deeper water. Ride it out and swim perpendicular to the current back to shore.
"We believe flip, float and follow will work in any body of moving water. The whole premise is as long as you're floating, you're alive. You calm yourself down and follow the best action to get out of the water. We believe a lot of drowning is ... because people panic, they're in water, and it is the instinctive drowning response," Benjamin said. "When someone goes into the instinctive drowning response, they've got between 15 and 45 seconds before final submersion."
The flip, float and follow saying was modeled after the famous "stop, drop and roll."