OCEAN CITY — A 14-year-old surfer from Montgomery County is a hero today after rescuing a swimmer in distress in the ocean.
Around 7:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Michael Friedlander, 14, of Darnestown, Md. in Montgomery County, was on the beach at 143rd Street in front of his family’s summer condo preparing for an early morning surfing session with a group of friends when he was called into service on a rescue mission. His mother, Debbie Friedlander, said she was in the condo when she heard a strange sound which she later identified as a man desperately calling for help.
Debbie Friedlander said her husband also heard the screaming victim and ran down to the beach, but by the time he got down to the water’s edge, their son, Michael, had already handled the situation.
“They were preparing to go surfing and Michael was waxing his board on the beach when he heard the victim screaming in distress,” she said later on Tuesday. “Michael grabbed his friend’s board and dove into the water and pulled the man in to safety. When my husband arrived on the beach, the man couldn’t thank him enough and said over and over ‘your son just saved my life.’”
Debbie Friedlander said that essentially ended the incident with no emergency medical response required. She said the victim, who appeared to be in his mid-20s and spoke with a foreign accent, thanked Michael and his father over and over and then walked up the beach. She said he apparently had drifted pretty far in the strong current because they watched him walk for several blocks.
Michael Friedlander, who is entering high school this fall in Montgomery County, is an avid skier and lacrosse player, but his real passion is surfing and everything related to the water. After the early morning rescue on Tuesday, he and his friends continued surfing until the Beach Patrol lifeguards came on duty, then went back to the condo for some breakfast before returning to the beach for more swimming and body-boarding. Debbie Friedlander said Michael routinely spends about 12 hours in the ocean during summer days.
“He was the right guy in the right place at the right time this morning,” she said on Tuesday. “He didn’t hesitate and knew just what to do. He’s so comfortable in the water.”
How Michael ended up being the right guy in the right place on Tuesday is an interesting back story. Debbie Friedlander said about six years ago, Michael had a bout with frequent seizures and the family still hasn’t entirely figured out what caused them. After the seizures had abated and it appeared Michael was going to be okay, the family decided to buy their beach condo in Ocean City because of Michael’s love for the ocean and all things related to the water.
“After the seizures, Michael was just so happy to be okay and alive, he really became the most caring person and enjoys everything life has to offer from his skiing to lacrosse to his first passion, surfing,” she said. “Everything just fell into place for a happy ending on Tuesday in what could have been a tragedy.”
Tuesday morning’s incident reinforces the oft-repeated but no less important Beach Patrol mantra “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguards are in the stand.” It’s a message hammered home constantly throughout the summer when tragic and near-tragic ocean swimming incidents occur during times when the Beach Patrol is not on duty and it bears repeating because of the constant changeover in visitors each week and even each day.