Christopher Speakman hit the water Saturday for a day of surfing in the ocean at Newport with a friend. He had no idea he would use his surfboard to help save the lives of three men.
The 60-year-old Corvallis surfer was using a rip current near the South Jetty to work his way out to some big waves when he saw fishermen on top of the jetty pointing in a southerly direction out toward sea.
“There were no other surfers in the water,” he said in an interview late Saturday afternoon from his Corvallis home. “I saw an unusual object in the water and experienced a little bit of concern as to what it was.” He said he thought it could be a buoy, “but it sure looked like the bow of a boat.
“I was actually a little bit afraid at that point just because I was so far out. I just thought there might be a shark or some other animal — sometimes they are attracted to objects in the water, but I just kept moving in that direction.”
He said right about the time he was sure it was a boat, he saw three heads bobbing in the water.
“So I headed straight over there,” Speakman said.
Two of the men were able to speak and follow directions. He decided the best plan was to get them to use his surfboard as a flotation device.
The other man was injured and wasn’t talking.
“So I climbed up on the boat. It was just the bow sticking straight up, so it was a difficult climb to get myself onto the bow of the boat.”
Once Speakman got a good hold of a rope fastened to the bow, he told the man to take hold of his legs and pull himself out of the water.
“He was able to do that,” Speakman said. “He pulled himself completely out of the water, and held on tightly to my legs. And I held on to him.”
Around that time, Speakman said they heard the Coast Guard horn and knew that they were going to make it.
“It was just such a remarkable scene,” he said. “Frankly, the look on the faces of these guys were beyond concern. It’s lucky the water was as warm as it was today and these men were large gentlemen, and that made the difference. They said they thought they had been in the water half an hour.
“I also experienced this surge of elation. I felt like my presence made their spirits come up and we got the situation under control.”
The men, who were wearing lifejackets, remained with Speakman for about 20 minutes until Coast Guard personnel arrived and transported them to the nearby Coast Guard facility.
Speakman caught a wave all the way back to the beach.
Two of the rescued men were taken to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport where they were treated and released for hypothermia and other minor injuries.
They were identified as Dan Hande, 57, and Rob Hicks, 57, both from Salem. The third man and boat owner, Craig Smith, 55, of Turner, did not go to the hospital.
Smith's 18-foot aluminum crabbing boat has not been retrieved and is considered a total loss.
Speakman said he has been in tight spots himself in ocean situations both as a surfer and commercial lobster fisherman years ago in Maine.
He has been surfing since age 15, when his family moved to Hawaii from Virginia. He later had a career as a self-publishing photographer in Santa Fe, N.M.
He and his wife, Anne McCormick, moved to Ashland in 1994, to Manzanita in 1995 and then to Corvallis in 1996. They have a grown daughter, Maile.
Speakman said he is semi-retired and now works part time in the bulk department at the First Alternative Co-op in Corvallis.
The Associated Press contibuted to this story