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Video: Surfer to rescuer: ‘Thanks, man!’

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    MATT LAUER, co-host: Let's begin with the rescue and survival of that surfer who was battered by not one but two huge waves off the California coast. In a moment we'll talk to him exclusively along with the man who saved him. But first, here's NBC 's Lee Cowan .

    LEE COWAN reporting: It's called Mavericks , a Northern California surf spot that is the stuff of legend. Besides its waves , the cold water , the jagged rocks and its propensity for sharks, all lure surfers of a certain breed, people like Jake Trette , who's been surfing since he was four years old.

    Mr. JAKE TRETTE: It's the most dangerous spot. It's just -- everything about, it's just kind of creepy.

    COWAN: But not on this day, it was sunny, almost magical. Its 10- to 15-foot waves were perfect. But then, out of nowhere came this.

    Mr. TRETTE: Everyone was just, like, super scared. I'd say my eyes were popping out of my head because I was -- I just saw this wave and it was like, I don't -- it was like 40 feet high.

    COWAN: Surfers scattered, including Jake 's family friend.

    Unidentified Man: Perhaps he should have thrown his board aside and just dove deep.

    COWAN: But Jake thought he could make it and he almost did.

    Mr. TRETTE: I was caught right at the top, like the worst place you want to be, I mean the worst place you want to be on Mavericks .

    COWAN: It shoved him off his board. Falling far into the whitewash below, he finally surfaced but was then slammed again by a second massive wave.

    Mr. TRETTE: Just a face full of water, that's all I remember, just a big crash just right on my head.

    COWAN: Jake was knocked out cold, tossed around like a coin in a washing machine for he doesn't know for how long. Finally he floated to the surface, lifeless, face down right next to those jagged rocks. Russell Ord , a photographer, raced into the churning foam on a Jet Ski to grab him, fearing the worst, but then a surprise.

    Mr. RUSSELL ORD (Photographer, Rescued Jake Trette): I could not believe that he had a pulse when we dragged him up on the beach, there's no way.

    COWAN: A glimmer of hope that it wasn't too late.

    Mr. ORD: Maybe every 20 seconds you have a tiny little cough, so there was something there, but his eyes were rolled back.

    COWAN: Airlifted to a hospital, Jake was put in a coma to slow his brain's need for oxygen, and slowly came back. Doctors now call him a miracle. Jake calls Russell an angel. But as a young father, he now calls Mavericks a thing of the past .

    Mr. TRETTE: I might give Mavericks a rest for a couple years, you know?

    COWAN: You don't get many passes here, Jake barely escaped with one. For TODAY, Lee Cowan, NBC News, Los Angeles .

    LAUER: Jake Trette is with us now exclusively along with Russell Ord , the man who rescued him. Good morning to both of you.

    Mr. TRETTE: Good morning.

    Mr. ORD: Good morning.

    LAUER: Jake , let me start with you. I mean, you know, life is good, you're there, you're surfing these 15-foot waves , it's a beautiful day ; do you get when you're in a location like that any warning that these monster waves are rolling in?

    Mr. TRETTE: No, not really any.

    LAUER: So when you first looked up -- and again, it's frightening enough to see the size of that wave on videotape, I can only imagine what it looked like from water level -- when you saw that thing in front of you, what, you know, what are you thinking?

    Mr. TRETTE: I'm just thinking I got to get out of this or, you know, it's a life-threatening thing that's going to happen to me.

    LAUER: I guess you have a split second to decide whether to try to get deep and get under that wave or ride it to the top. Did you -- did you contemplate trying to get under it?

    Mr. TRETTE: It seemed like everything happened so fast that -- yeah, now that I look at the footage I probably should have gone under it, but there was -- there was somebody behind me and there's people to the side of me and I didn't want my board to hit them...

    LAUER: You know...

    Mr. TRETTE: ...so I decided to go over it.

    LAUER: ...when you ride up the face of that wave and get to the top, what you described as the worst possible place to be, it looks as if there's a moment you're basically in free fall, you get launched by the wave and come down. What do you remember about the ride?

    Mr. TRETTE: I remember that I got stuck at the top and it launched me all the way to the bottom of the ground. I ended up pushing off the bottom and coming up to two following waves crashing on my head. And then after about the third following wave, I just blacked out, I don't know if the board hit me in the head or the wave actually knocked me out. I blacked out.

    LAUER: Russell , let me bring you in here. You know, you're on a Jet Ski , which, by the way, I understand you're not really supposed to be in that area, but you were on a Jet Ski , you're taking pictures. First of all, how did you avoid getting smashed by those same waves ?

    Mr. ORD: What was that? Sorry?

    LAUER: I was just saying how did you, on a Jet Ski , avoid getting smashed by the same waves that hit Jake ?

    Mr. ORD: On a Jet Ski , you're fine, it's really safe, and I can just move out to the safety area. It's really safe.

    LAUER: You're not only a photographer, you are a trained firefighter, so you've got some rescue training as well. When you saw all these surfers being sucked up into the power of that massive wave did you have a sense for how bad this was going to be?

    Mr. ORD: Oh, yeah, it was a pretty sticky situation. Like there was about four or five guys that got swamped by those two waves . So for me, it was just a quick squirt on the Jet Ski and I'm out of there, but I wouldn't want to be in their position.

    LAUER: And when you came across Jake lying face down in the water, I mean you have to act quickly, and you must have never thought that this was going to turn out the way it turned out.

    Mr. ORD: Oh, that's just the way, you know, things happen, really. So I'm just thankful that Jake 's in the studio right there talking to us. So I mean, it's worked out for the best in the end.

    LAUER: Jake , I know that you had a chance to speak by phone with Russell a couple of days ago, anything you'd like to say to him today?

    Mr. TRETTE: I just would like to say thanks, buddy. I'm alive because of you. I get to see my family and see my friends, and hopefully we get to hang out one day, too. And I just want to say God bless to your family and thank you very much .

    LAUER: Real quickly, Jake , you talk about your family, you got a four-year-old son, you know, what do you think he's going to be thinking when he's old enough to see this footage and realize that was his dad being tossed around like a rag doll by that wave?

    Mr. TRETTE: Well, hopefully he doesn't want to actually go there because, you know, if I was little I'd be like, ' Ooh , wow, I'm going to go do what daddy did.' So hopefully I'll be out there with him, watching him on a Jet Ski or telling him not to go.

    LAUER: Yeah. Be safe.

    Mr. TRETTE: Yeah.

    LAUER: Be safe. Jake , we're happy you're OK. Be safe in the future. And, Russell , great job. And what you did is amazing. So thanks you -- thanks to you for joining us as well.

TODAY contributor
updated 1/31/2011 10:10:03 AM ET 2011-01-31T15:10:03

Crushed beneath mountainous rogue waves off the Northern California coast, surfer Jake Trette was within a breath of losing his life when a guardian angel came to his rescue — riding not on gossamer wings, but a jet ski.

TODAY hosted a reunion Monday between the grateful surfer and Russell Ord, an Australian photographer who spotted Trette being tossed around like a rag doll as he battled a titanic wave at a surfing site known as Mavericks at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Ord, who is also a firefighter, taxied the unconscious Trette back to shore, saving his life in the process.

“I just would like to say thanks, buddy — I’m alive because of you,” Trette told Ord live via satellite hookup between his home in Los Angeles and Cowaramup, Australia, where Ord lives. “I get to see my family and to see my friends, and hopefully we get to hang out one day. I just want to say God bless to your family, and thank you very much.”

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‘Everything happened so fast’
That 30-year-old Trette is around to thank his rescuer, who he called an “angel,” is something of a medical marvel. The surfer floated facedown in frigid waters for 6 to 8 minutes before Ord reached him and whisked him to shore.

A veteran California surfer who first mounted a board at age 4, Trette had traveled north to tackle Mavericks, a renowned spot in Monterey Bay that brings out both fear and exhilaration among the world’s surfers. Waves there have been known to swell up to 80 feet.

Paddling his board out on Jan. 22, Trette found the swells averaging a manageable 15 to 18 feet. But, Trette told NBC, his “eyes were popping out of my head” when he and other surfers were suddenly faced with a looming 30-foot wave. As captured on film, several surfers were sent flying by the wave, while Trette rode the swell on his board.

Jacob Trette’s surfboard is visible flying above the monster wave that battered him before Russell Ord rode to his rescue on a jet ski.

Trette told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that in retrospect, he thinks he would have been better off ditching his board and trying to dive beneath the wave. “But it seems like everything happened so fast,” he recalled. “I probably should have gone under it, but there was somebody behind me and there were people to the side of me, and I didn’t want my board to hit them. So I decided to go over it.”

The wave, as high as a three-story building, knocked him off his board and slammed him into the ocean floor. Trette bobbed back up, only to be hit by a second, then a third wave, knocking him unconscious.

‘Sticky situation’
Matt Kirzan was kayaking nearby as the waves crested, sending surfers and boards alike flying. And when the waves passed, he saw a body floating.

Kirzan told The New York Times that he knew he would be unable to maneuver fast enough to save the downed surfer, and frantically began waving a paddle to draw the attention of a jet skier who was videotaping the surfers. As luck would have it, the jet skier was Ord, a trained firefighter from Down Under with rescue experience.

“It was a pretty sticky situation,” Ord told Lauer. “There was about four or five guys that got swallowed by those waves. To me, it was just a quick squirt on the jet ski, and I’m out of there. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be in their position.”

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Video: Gnarly, dude! Huge wave surprises surfers (on this page)

Ord made a beeline for Trette and hustled him to the shore, and he told NBC that he initially was fearful for the surfer. “I could not believe he had a pulse when we dragged him up onto the beach — there’s no way,” Ord said. “Maybe every 20 seconds you’d have a tiny little cough, but his eyes were rolled back.”

Another onlooker had already called 911, and a rescue helicopter arrived to fly Trette to Stanford Medical Center. He was put into a medically induced coma to lessen his brain’s need for oxygen. But amazingly, Trette walked out of the hospital four days later barely the worse for wear.

Ord maintains an aw-shucks attitude toward his rescue. “That’s just the way things happen, really,” he told Lauer. “I’m just thankful that Jake’s in the studio right there talking to us. It worked out for the best in the end.”

Video: Surfer to rescuer: ‘Thanks, man!’ (on this page)

Even more amazing is the fact that Ord was a tourist in the bay — if he had been a local resident, he likely would not have been there. Personal watercraft devices are banned from the waters of Mavericks because of damage they can cause to marine life, a law of which Ord was unaware.

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But Jeff Clark, a renowned surfer credited for being the first to tackle Mavericks back in the 1970s, says Ord’s rescue of Trette should make lawmakers rethink their stance.

“If one of those guys gets hit in the head by a surfboard, then his other buddies are going to have to try to find him, get him on a surfboard and paddle him 600 yards to the beach,” Clark told The New York Times. “He’s not got a chance.”

And Trette may have been thinking much the same thing when Lauer asked him what his 4-year-old would think when he gets old enough to watch his dad being “tossed around like a rag doll” by a monster wave.

“Well, hopefully he doesn’t want to actually go there,” Trette replied. “Hopefully I’ll be out there with him, watching him on a jet ski — or telling him not to go.”

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