Emergency dispatchers received multiple 911 calls Monday reporting two people potentially drowning in the Great Miami River, bloated and raging after Sunday’s record rainfall.
But surfers Shannon Thomas and Josh Wright were having the times of their lives.
“I had a blast. It was probably one of the best surfs I’ve had in a while,” Thomas said.
The professional river surfer was about to begin his last surf when ambulances, fire trucks, police and park rangers — and a water rescue boat — arrived near the River Run drop just upstream from the Monument Avenue bridge.
“Basically, people aren’t educated enough,” said Thomas, 32. “They see somebody in the river and they immediately think they are drowning. They can’t fathom why someone would be out there on a board surfing.”
Thomas, a 2003 Fairmont High School graduate, said he and friend Wright were taking all the proper precautions: using a buddy system, wearing helmets, wetsuits, PFDs and outfitted with leashes that could quickly be released in case of entanglement.
“At no point were me or my buddy in distress,” said Thomas, who tapped his helmet at the arriving emergency responders, an international symbol that one is not in danger.
While the river where the men surfed is typically much safer now that a low dam has been removed, it can still be extraordinarily hazardous under certain conditions — more so without proper training, said Amy Dingle, director of Outdoor Connections at Five Rivers MetroParks.
“The men surfing the River Run on Monday were highly skilled, which allowed them to assess the action and temperature of the water, and they took every safety precaution,” said Dingle, a former Olympic team kayaker.
Everyone must consider their skill level and experience when deciding whether to get on the water, she said.
“We encourage anyone who hasn’t had training or extensive experience to stay off the river when it’s flooded,” Dingle said. “And always wear a life jacket.”
After exiting the river, Thomas said he had a 20-minute talk with authorities.
“They were basically threatening me with inciting or inducing panic,” he said.
Thomas, who is sponsored by Badfish Stand Up Paddle, said he was not cited because he broke no laws.
The wave created by the unusually high water is on par with one of the best river features in the nation, Thomas said.
“At that level it’s very similar to the Glenwood Springs, Colo., wave, which is probably one of the most famous waves in the country,” he said.