Chance encounter, cautionary tale

Jon Steele

Jackson Isaacs (left) and Josh Buran meet on the cliff above Blacks two years after Isaacs helped save Buran's life.

It's been exactly two years now since then 19-year-old Garrett James was hooting his buddy Josh Buran into six-foot waves at Blacks Beach in San Diego. Earlier in the session Buran had copped a board to the jaw, but kept charging. Neither James nor Buran thought anything of it. That all changed in an instant.

"I'll never forget it, after one wave I paddled back out and found him blue and black. His eyes were open, but he was dark blue. He was dead man. I tripped out," James explains. "Others had gotten to him and were helping, but I really couldn't handle it."

"An emerald green peace, a calm is how I remember it," says Buran. It's a cold January morning and he's in a reflective mood.

When trying to recall the incident of his near drowning he explains, "I can't remember much, but I remember the surfboard hitting me in the jaw and just powering through it. Then I remember the calm. The green water with rays of sun going down just floating. After that I woke up in the hospital and started pulling all the I.V.s out of my arm and trying to get ou of there, just tripping out."

And for two years now that's all Buran knew about his surfing accident. He didn't know who'd ultimately saved his life until a random email laned in my inbox in response to some photos I'd posted on my blog. A few phone calls later and shortly thereafter Buran was shaking hands with Jackson Isaacs, one of the men that saved his life.

"It wasn't huge, but it was solid, a perfect day, like the ones we've had recently," Isaacs explains.

Isaacs was sitting outside about 40 feet away when he heard somebody yell, "Josh, are you OK?!"

Jon Steele

Buran's back surfing again, albiet a little more humble this winter.

"I paddled over, and Josh was unconscious, not breathing and blue. I got off my board and started compressions in the water by pushing on his chest and back at the same time. Grey foam was coming out of his nose and mouth and after a minute or two he made a gurgle/choking noise like he was trying to breath," says Isaacs.

"I thought it was a fight," say James. "A few of them had been arguing and splashing a couple times that morning."

"A couple of people had gathered around by this time and we decided that we needed to swim him in," says Isaacs. "We got him into the impact zone and people started telling us a set was coming. As the wave was coming we decided we should swim him back out and try to duck under in green water. The four of us duck dove him under the first two cleanly while I held his nose and mouth closed. The third wave was bigger and tagged us. I was blown off of him and came to the surface. Some of the other guys also surfaced without him and I worrying that we lost him. Just then, one of the other guys popped out of the sandy foamy water with Josh in his arms. Josh was not breathing again. More compressions as we fought the north peak rip. It took at least another five minutes for the four of us to swim him in until we hit the sand. People on the beach called 911. We rolled him onto his side and watched water and foam drain out of him. Barely breathing. Still unconscious, still blue. Lifeguards show up and upon first glance, one says 'OK guys, get him in the truck, NOW!' I was on his right hip and literally dropped him in the front seat of the truck. That's the last I heard of Josh."

Two years later and Isaacs had no idea what had happened to the man whose life he'd saved. He gave his name and number to some of the locals and lifeguards, but never found anything out. "I periodically Google him to see if he's made any recent news or anyone has written about him just to make sure he was OK," says Isaacs.

"It definitely humbles you," confesses Buran. "I try just to be more mellow out in the water now."

As for Isaacs' part in it all, "For two years I wondered what happened to the guy I helped save, I'm glad he's alright and surfing again. If I'd never found his name on a random blog I would never have known what had happened after we dropped him in that lifeguard truck."

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