By LYDA LONGA, Staff Writer send an email to [email protected]
August 29, 2011 12:45 AM
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Surfers of all ages and experience levels had mixed reactions Sunday about the death of a 55-year-old New Smyrna Beach High math teacher who was killed in a surfing accident.
Some said Frederick “Fico” Fernandez, should not have taken the risk of surfing the big waves that most surf buffs in the area dream about all year; some younger surfers said the death of someone with so much experience under their belt was frightening; and still other surfers said most people who get on a board and venture out into the ocean are aware that such dangers are inherent in the sport of surfing.
They all felt badly for Fernandez, though, who was killed Saturday morning after he went over a wave and hit the ocean bottom.
“It’s scary,” said 17-year-old Cory Lapotaire, a senior at Winter Springs High who was surfing with a friend in New Smyrna Beach just south of the inlet. “That could happen to me.”
The same day Fernandez died, a New Jersey visitor perished in rough surf in Beverly Beach in Flagler County. James Palmer drowned about 2:40 p.m., according to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. Flagler deputies reported Palmer was at the beach with his wife, daughter and son when he went into the ocean. His family lost sight of him and, about 10 minutes later, a surfer noticed Palmer floating in the water and pulled him to shore.
Fernandez meanwhile, was surfing close to shore, said Volusia County Beach Patrol Capt. Tammy Marris. The accident happened about 11 a.m. in the 1000 block of North State Road A1A, about 100 feet south of a lifeguard tower.
Other surfers carried Fernandez to shore, but at that point, he wasn’t breathing, Marris said. Rescue personnel ran a “full code” but the teacher was pronounced dead around noon.
“It appears he went over a wave and might have gone head first into the ground,” Marris said. Fernandez suffered a cut to his head but an autopsy will be conducted to determine how he was killed, she said.
Longtime surfer Ron Draper — a 40-year surfing veteran — said he did not feel it was safe to surf Saturday when the waves were towering at 8 to 10 feet. Draper said it sounded as if Fernandez was very familiar with the spot where he was surfing on Saturday morning, just north of the Flagler Avenue beach approach.
“He probably felt too comfortable,” said Draper, a diving instructor from New Smyrna Beach. “The ocean is indifferent to what we think or what we do. You have to know when to go out and what to do.
“It’s not worth the risk,” Draper said.
His 14-year-old son John Draper, who started surfing eight years ago, said the teacher’s death did not surprise him given Saturday’s big wave conditions.
But longtime surfer Manuel Rivera, 21, and a friend who would only identify himself as “Daniel,” said such risks “are part of the deal.”
Both Rivera and Daniel said they had been looking forward to surfing on Saturday, but their jobs prevented them from getting to the beach.
“I’m not scared at all when the waves are like that,” said Rivera of Casselberry. “It’s bad luck that happened (to the teacher) but it’s part of surfing.”
Rivera’s friend said a lot of older, experienced surfers get hurt at New Smyrna Beach, but no one hears about it.
Winter Springs High junior Juan Pineda, who was hanging out in Lapotaire’s group, said he’s just starting to surf and stories such as Fernandez’ accident scare him.
“I don’t ever want to get hurt like that,” Pineda said.
But the 16-year-old also said he wanted to get the most out of surfing, regardless of the dangers.
“You have to risk it to get the biscuit, and I want the biscuit,” Pineda said.
A friend of Fernandez’ who has known him since they were both children and who is also a veteran surfer, drove to the beach approach on Sunday where the beloved teacher and married father of three died. The friend, who did not want to be identified, said he just wanted to talk with the lifeguard on duty to determine what had happened to Fernandez.
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