Coast Guard rescues surfer swept out to sea by rushing Elwha River

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A surfer was rescued by the Coast Guard after getting caught in the rushing flow of the rain-swollen Elwha River and pushed more than a half-mile into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Petty Officer Chason Ashworth said the surfer was exhausted from fighting the current but was otherwise all right.

The Sunday incident occurred in the popular surfing area where the river pours into the Strait, near Place Road west of Port Angeles and adjacent to the Lower Elwha Klallam reservation.

At 3:33 p.m., PenCom received 9-1-1 reports that the surfer was trying to paddle in, but was being pulled further from land.

Lower Elwha Klallam police responded, with backup from Clallam County Sheriff deputies, said Ron Cameron, chief criminal deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff's Office.

“By the time they arrived, they found that he had been pulled onto the other side of the river mouth, on the reservation side,” Cameron said.

The Port Angeles Coast Guard base dispatched a boat.

“When we were called, he was about 200-300 yards from land,” Ashworth said.

“By the time we got there, he was in trouble, paddling, about 800 yards from land. He was fighting the current.”

The Coast Guard did not identify the surfer.

The surfer is not from the Port Angeles area and is probably relatively inexperienced at the sport, said Shawn Canepa, president of the Olympic Peninsula chapter of the Surfrider Foundation who was informed of the rescue's circumstances.

The Elwha River has been running very fast and strong because of the weekend rainfall, producing very strong currents near the mouth, Canepa said.

“It's not a riptide, but it's the exact same principle,” he said.

Canepa said the surfer was waiting for the next set of waves, and probably didn't realize how strongly the current was pulling him away from shore.

“The current is just ripping out there,” he said. “You can't see it on top of the water.:

Canepa said experienced surfers know to paddle with the current but toward shore, but the surfer on Sunday tried to paddle against the current.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 17. 2014 7:20PM
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