TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — When longtime surfer Ricky George went out to catch some waves on May 16, he never would’ve anticipated he’d be emerging from the choppy waters as a hero.
“I was out there surfin’, you know, really rough day, a strong rip current, and a strong current heading to the south,” George told WSAV.com NOW of the water’s conditions that Saturday. “That’s where everybody was drifting.”
He knew the dangers of rip currents and realized it was time to head back to the shore of Tybee Beach.
As he made his way out of the water near 18th Street, something unexpected caught his attention.
“I was getting out right by the rocks, saw this little boy getting sucked into them,” George recalled. “I just had to spring into action and go get him.”
He was able to fight through the rough waves and reach the 8-year-old child.
“Once I got to him, it was already too late,” George said. “We were both going into the rocks, so just wrapped myself around him and did what I could to keep safe.”
The rescue was made all the more difficult by the rough surf and the drag of the surfboard still tethered to George’s angle.
To save them both, he decided to ditch his board. “Once we finally drifted over those rocks and I felt some soft sand under my feet, I was able to make it back to the beach and get us both out of there,” he said.
He lost his beloved surfboard, but the loss was minimal in comparison to the life he’d saved.
“It definitely got destroyed with the rocks, but I mean, that wasn’t anything. I wasn’t even thinking about that, I was just thinking about getting that kid out of there, really,” George said.
He says luckily, the young child was hardly injured by the rocks.
“I was cut up a little bit, but it was definitely an experience,” George said. “Really scary.”
The child was visiting Tybee from Macon with his family.
When George and the child made it back to the boy’s mother, George says she’d had no idea that her son had been in distress.
“She didn’t see where he was, but it’s very easy to lose sight of your kids out there,” George said. “There were a bunch of people out there that day, you know, and she was very thankful and the little boy was very thankful too, so I felt like she was very appreciative.”
Word of his heroic act reached Tybee Mayor Shirley Sessions, who then worked with Tybee Island Fire Chief Matt Harrell to show their gratitude toward the brave surfer.
They helped get George a brand-new surfboard to replace the one he’d lost during the rescue.
“The board I had was a pretty cheap board, but it was sold out because everybody bought it,” George said.
He thanked Harrell for the great job he did in helping him find a replacement at High Tide Surf Shop.
“I love the board, it’s awesome,” George said. “Surfs very well.”
Harrell says even though Tybee has seasonal lifeguards on the beach during the day and its fire staff members are also lifeguard certified, the city’s rescuers can’t be everywhere at all times.
“We’re really grateful and thankful that people like Ricky are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to help children out here on the beach,” Harrell told WSAV.com NOW.
“For a lot of these people, it may be their first time coming to the beach, they maybe have never even seen the ocean before and they don’t understand the strong currents, what a rip tide is and all that,” Harrell said.
“We were just very grateful to him to do that for us, so it’s the least the city could do for him,” he added.
As an experienced surfer, George chose a shorter board from the shop, said High Tide Surf Shop manager Arielle Navon.
“I think he’s a really nice guy, super down to earth,” Navon told WSAV.com NOW.
“With everything going on lately, this was really good for the community, it was an awesome story and he should be really proud of what he did,” she said.
George says he doesn’t see himself as a hero, but wanted to do what he could to help.
“I was just at the right place at the right time,” he said.