The very last days of summer are upon us, and as people try
to eek out one last (or first) trip to the beach for the season, lifeguards are
prepared for huge surf and large crowds.
With so many inexperienced beachgoers hitting the surf,
lifeguards often see an unfortunate uptick in accidents and injuries during
Labor Day weekend. Hoag’s Project Wipeout aims to prevent accidents and make
sure your day at the beach is fun and safe.
Project Wipeout was started 35 years ago this month, when
five young men were admitted to the Hoag ICU with neck and spinal cord injuries
related to surfing and swimming accidents at the beach. Dr. Jack Skinner and
other concerned Hoag physicians and nurses, along with local paramedics and
lifeguards decided something had to be done and developed educational material
to help prevent injuries and save lives.
Today, Project Wipeout has reached millions, saving lives
and preventing injuries at our beaches, by offering information and resources
to keep people safe at the beach.
Among the most important tips Project Wipeout offers
- Don’t dive head-first into water because the ocean floor is
uneven. It’s best to test the depth of water with your feet, not your head.
- Check in with the lifeguards when you get to the beach.
Lifeguards can tell you what the ocean conditions are like and whether it’s a
good idea to swim.
- If you’re caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight
the current. A rip current will pull you away from the shore, but it will not
pull you under water. To escape, swim parallel to the shore, until you are out
of the current. Then swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore.
Rip currents are one of the biggest reasons for drowning,
and the untrained eye typically doesn’t see them. That was the case for Andrew
On Aug. 3, 2012, Meredith, now 23, of Tulsa, Okla., was
vacationing in Huntington Beach. Body surfing with friends, Meredith took a
large wave at the wrong angle and got caught in a rip current. He was tossed
around by the waves like a T-shirt in a washing machine.
The waves pushed him to the shore, slamming his head into
the sand. He heard a pop. The ocean had broken Andrew’s C1 cervical vertebra.
The waves tossed him some more, and he heard two more pops. His T2 and T3
thoracic vertebrae broke, too. Those are injuries that can kill, but lifeguards
immediately understood the severity of the injuries and made sure Meredith got
After surgery and six months in a neck brace, Meredith was
healthy, pain-free and capable of doing everything he could do before. His
recovery is a testament to the quick-thinking of the lifeguards; the skill of
his neurosurgeon, William Dobkin, M.D., and the support of Hoag’s remarkable
and positive staff.
But Meredith knows his injuries could have been avoided
altogether if he had been more knowledgeable about ocean safety before diving
in. He hopes more people make use of Project Wipeout’s informational packets
and website before hitting the beach.
“Some of it was a lack of knowledge,” Meredith shared, of
his own injury. “I hadn’t been body surfing in waves like that for many years,
and I had forgotten the power of the waves. That mixture of forgetting the
power of the waves and not thinking about the consequences if I do something
wrong, that was a bad combination.”
Meredith has become a kind of one-man Project Wipeout for
his friends and family. In addition to sharing his story, he tells everyone who
will listen to get educated before they get in the water.
“A lot of people, when they are injured, they fear it,”
Meredith said. “I don’t fear the ocean, but I respect it a lot more.”
For more information, visit Project Wipeout.