Surfer Rescued After 32 Hours in Frigid Atlantic Waters

Heading out into the northern Atlantic Ocean for a day of surfing is not for the faint of heart. Catching waves in the 63-degree water for just a few hours without the proper gear can almost guarantee a scary case of hypothermia — and even with the proper gear, the freezing, churning waters pose danger for anyone with guts enough to get in. Scottish surfer Matthew Bryce learned that the hard way on Tuesday when he became lost at sea while surfing and was forced to endure 32 hours in the frigid water. 

What started as a casual morning of surfing at Machrihanish beach near Campbeltown in Scotland quickly turned into a battle to survive when he was swept out to sea. According to a report from the Irish Times, Bryce ran into difficulties after suffering a cramp, and he couldn’t paddle his way back toward shore before currents and difficult off-shore winds swept him out into open waters. “He… tried to make it ashore but couldn’t,” Lawrence Cumming, a member of the Irish Coast Guard who rescued Bryce 13 miles off the coast, told the Irish Times. “He then drifted down to the Mull of Kintyre thinking he was going to be able to make it ashore, but the tide just took him back out to sea again.” 

Bryce attempted to swim to fishing boats that he could see in the distance, but to no avail. After an afternoon of attempting to paddle himself into a rescue, night started to fall and Bryce’s chances of rescue plummeted along with the nighttime temperatures. Search parties were sent out on the following day, after he had already been missing at sea for 24 hours. It wasn’t until that evening around 7:30 p.m., 32 hours after he first entered the water, that the Coast Guard’s search-and-rescue party spotted him from a helicopter above. Bryce was 13 miles off the Scottish coast when he was rescued.

Bryce was severely hypothermic when the Coast Guard found him, but his neoprene wetsuit, boots, hood, and gloves kept him alive by keeping him protected from direct contact with the water and allowing his body temperature to remain above fatal levels. Additionally, Coast Guard rescuers are crediting the fact that Bryce staying with his surfboard for the entire time he was adrift was a major key in his survival since he could lie atop the board and keep his body from being submerged.

The coastguard was actually able to recover Bryce’s surfboard, which he will be reunited with after he is released from the hospital in Belfast in Northern Ireland, where he is being treated for hypothermia and exhaustion. He is expected to make a full recovery.