By George McGuirk | Special to the NB Indy
A Newport Beach tourist committed an ocean safety error that put his life in peril, but an unlikely bystander stepped in and took action.
Hayden Cobb, a 19-year-old college student back in Newport Beach for summer break, arrived at the Newport Pier near Lifeguard Tower 24 just after 7 p.m. for a late evening surf. As he assessed the waves, Cobb spotted a young couple swimming in the water near the jetty.
Cobb could tell the man was acting recklessly from the moment he stepped in the water. He walked out into deep water, then started progressively swimming further until he got tired and started treading water.
When the man put his hands up and began screaming for help, Hayden grabbed his surfboard and jumped into the water.
For the next 30 minutes, Cobb paddled furiously, thinking only of the potential tragedy if somebody doesn’t get to this guy quickly.
“I didn’t look back, I told myself no regrets from the moment I touched the water,” recalled Cobb.
After a long, grueling paddle, Cobb finally managed to hook the man to the back of his surfboard and began dragging him back to shore.
For the next hour, Cobb exerted all his energy to keep them both afloat as he paddled parallel to shore to get out of the rip current.
As both a surfer and student of the sea, Cobb understands the unpredictability of the ocean better than most.
“You can’t fight the current,” Hayden explained. “When you’re in a riptide you want to swim at an angle parallel to the shore because if you try to swim straight back to shore you will get sucked out even more,” he said.
Four years ago, Cobb faced a similar life-changing experience when he lost both of his parents. The summer before his freshman year of high school, Cobb’s father passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Two months later, his mother died from liver cancer.
When Cobb learned none of his relatives would take him in and he’d be put into foster care, he decided to run away.
Broken and alone, Cobb spent the next two weeks homeless.
“It was probably one of the most humbling experiences,” said Cobb. “I was at the lowest point in my life, and that really changed how I look at how valuable someone’s life is compared to mine,” he said.
The journey revealed plenty of life lessons to Cobb. He expressed tremendous gratitude for the experience because it taught him that a person’s life without money or a home is no less valuable than his own.
Cobb expressed a similar attitude toward his rescue attempt of the unknown man.
“Rescuing that man taught me that all life is precious and it can be taken away from you in a matter of seconds,” said Cobb.
If not for his bravery, Cobb believes the man would not be here today.
In the grand scheme of life, Cobb believes that going against the grain will drown you more than moving with the forces.
“You don’t drown by falling under the water, you drown by staying there, and this applies to the obstacles you go through in life,” said Cobb.
He believes that no matter what life throws at you, you still have a choice.
“You can either be defined by your situation, or you can be defined by how you react to it,” he said.
Thankfully Cobb did not sit passively from the beach that day and watch the man die. He recognized the situation, and instead of doing nothing, he accepted the reality and reacted.
“You realize how much you can endure as a person when you have no other choice than to be strong,” said Cobb.
Today, Cobb is an incoming sophomore studying business administration at Hawaii Pacific University. However, he aspires to switch to marine biology in the future.
While Cobb is unsure where this path will lead him next, he is all about embracing the journey and helping others.
“I want to live a life where I can make a difference in kids’ lives that are just like mine. I feel like that’s how I’ll leave my mark on the world,” said Cobb.
While Cobb’s mission in life is fairly straightforward, it says a lot about his character and attitude toward life. He wants to make the world a better place, and given his recent heroics, it appears he’s well on his way.