Two Navarre women, who jokingly call themselves “old surfer girls,” helped save two young girls who were swept out in the currents of the Destin pass Thursday.
Brenda Stokes and Laura Barsh were looking for a place to surf when they decided to check out the east jetty in Destin. As they were wandering along the beaches of Norriego Point, they saw three young girls with bright innertubes getting pulled into the East Pass by currents from the outgoing tide.
One wasn’t quite in the current and made it to shore safely, but the other two didn’t realize they were in trouble until it was too late, Stokes said.
“One of them abandoned her float and decided to swim to the sandbar,” Stokes said. “The other girl drifted out to get her, and then they were both in trouble again.”
Stokes and Barsh, who had left their boards in the car, ran up and down the beach looking for any type of flotation device so they could save the girls. All they could find was one boogie board.
Stokes strapped it around her ankle with a plan of swimming to the girls. Then they noticed a surfer, got his attention and gave the board to another bystander who tiptoed quickly over the jetty’s rocks to reach a point where he could help the surfer get the girls in.
The girls were in the East Pass about 30 feet from the jetty when the surfer reached them, Stokes said.
“This was a risky rescue for him as his board was short and there were two girls,” Stokes said. “Fortunately, this young man was experienced enough to know how to use the current to his advantage and eventually got the girls to the end of the jetty where another man helped get them up and safely onto the rocks.”
A lifeguard on an ATV arrived after the girls were on the beach.
Stokes shared the story in a Friday email to Destin officials, encouraging them to update their rescue equipment and put buoys on the beach at regular intervals. Navarre Beach has them in place.
“The devices save lives (are now being used all over the world), and if there had been one available the girls could have been rescued sooner, especially if the surfer had not shown up,” she wrote. “I did not notice any of these devises on that stretch of beach, and if there were, no one knew where to find them.”
After the surfer and the girls were safely on shore, Barsh took a photo of them. She learned the surfer’s first name is Thomas, but she is trying to find out his last name so he can be properly recognized for his heroism.
Stokes, who used to be a lifeguard, said people often panic and let go of their flotation devices when they get caught in a rip current. The devices do carry them out more quickly, but unless you know to relax and swim out of a rip current, it’s dangerous to let go of flotation devices.
The girls had been swimming in a small body of water created by a finger of the jetty. Double red flags were flying on the beach. In Okaloosa County, only surfers are allowed in the water during double red flag conditions.
“That would have been a real awful thing to have a 12- or 13-year-old drown out there for absolutely no reason,” Stokes said. “That young man was putting his life at risk. He was proud of himself for what he did.”