Stab Magazine | A Beloved Encinitas Lifeguard Died Last Week While Surfing In Mexico
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A Beloved Encinitas Lifeguard Died Last Week While Surfing In Mexico

RIP to Blake Dresner, a young man who loved surfing infinitely. 

news // Aug 22, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Blake Dresner loved surfing more than anything. 

The 23-year-old Encinitas local spent his formative years competing in amateur events, in 2013 winning an individual state title and team national championship with San Dieguito Academy. After graduating, Blake shifted his focus from competition to chasing the world’s best waves, going on trips to Indonesia, Mexico, and beyond, between stints as an Encinitas lifeguard and carpenter. 

When he wasn’t border-hopping, Blake enjoyed surfing the surplus of quality waves within San Diego county.

“He wasn’t afraid to regulate, either,” said his lifelong pal, Robby Sanford. “If anyone was out of line, Blake would be the one to call people out.”

Blake also loved a good time.    

“Blake went hard,” Robby continued. “Even if he was up until one or two in the morning, he could be out in the water at 5:30 the next day. We’d all be lying in bed, groggy, and he’s like, ‘Let’s go boys, we’re out there!’ He just loved it.”

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Blake, a beloved character in and out of the water.

Which is probably why, last weekend, on his first international surf trip since covid closed the borders, Blake was the first of his friends to enter the lineup at a thumping, slightly overhead beach break in Salina Cruz, Mexico—a wave you’ve seen in myriad surf films over the years (including our semi-recent Dock 2.0).

With a group of friends hooting him from the shore, Blake took off on his first wave of the session—a mid-sized righthander with an unusually desirable taper (this beachbreak is notorious for being a beautiful closeout)—and pulled into the tube. 

“He threaded it perfectly,” said Josh Sanford, brother of Robby, both of whom were on the Mexico trip with Blake. “He just kind of got pinched at the end, and it didn’t let him out.”

Then something unusual happened. 

“We were just about to paddle out when we saw Blake pop up from the fall,” Josh explains. “Blake stood up in the shorebreak like he was ready to get another wave. About a second later, we saw he was bleeding badly from his neck, and then Josh Sirota [another friend on the trip] and I just started screaming and sprinting towards him.

“I heard them say, ‘Grab a towel right away’,” inserted Robby, who was down the beach when the incident occurred. “I knew something was really wrong. So we grabbed a towel and ran as fast as we could. That’s when Matt took over.”

Matthew Craig, a travel nurse with years of experience in the trauma unit, immediately led the other surfers (Yehuda Ben-Hamo, Robby Sanford, Max Beach, Josh Sanford + Josh Sirota) in the emergency response process. They switched off on CPR and tried to resuscitate before the ambulance arrived. Given the magnitude of the injury and the remote location, Blake unfortunately passed away in his friends’ arms moments later. 

“We couldn’t believe it. It all happened so fast,” Robby said. “We did everything that we could. I hope people know we did everything that we could.”

While not losing sight of Blake’s tragic death, this the point in the story when most surfers will think: “Holy shit, that could happen to me.”

Yes, it could. Frankly, it’s shocking that it doesn’t happen more often. Fins are sharp, bottoms are shallow, and humans can’t breathe underwater—all of which makes surfers uniquely susceptible to fatal injuries.   

The wave Blake fell on was not all that treacherous, especially when compared to those he’s ridden at Todos Santos, Java, or other shallow crevices around the world. But a wave doesn’t need to big or powerful to do irreversible damage. All it takes is an unlucky recoil from a leash or a wipeout that’s slightly askew, and it could all be over.

Like most people reading this, Blake knew the inherent risks of surfing before paddling out that day.

Unlike most people reading this, Blake put in the work to train both his body and mind in preparation for the ocean’s most critical situations.

That’s why, when a beautiful, hollow right-hander came his way, Blake was able to confidently intercept it and thread the tube as far as it allowed. 

What happened next can only be chalked up to a tragic misfortune, and was in no way the fault of Blake or any of his attempted saviors. 

“We really want everyone to know that the people that should have been there, were there,” said Blake’s sister, Allison Dresner. “They did everything perfectly, and our family has no doubt in our minds that they did everything they could and we are immensely grateful for the friends that were there.”

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Halfway around the world, Blake was right at home.

The ambulance arrived about 20 minutes after Blake passed.

After just losing one of their best friends, Robby, Josh, and the rest of the boys were nowhere near ready to handle what came next. 

“After the paramedics came and found no pulse on Blake, the police caution-taped the beach and started asking us a bunch of questions. They were treating it like a crime scene.”

Like a crime scene

“We were trying to explain to them what had happened, that Blake had been hit by his board and cut his neck. But they had never seen anything like that before, so they didn’t really believe us,” Robby continued. “Finally, one of our surf guides came down and was able to explain the situation better, and eventually they let us go. But for a minute, we thought we were about to be charged for killing our friend. It was too much.”

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Blake (left) and Josh Sirota (right) discuss where to surf next.

Josh and Robby Sanford left Mexico as soon as possible, while Josh Sirota and Matt Craig (the best Spanish speakers of the group) remained in Salina Cruz to wait for Blake’s dad and help with the proceedings.

Blake’s ashes were flown back to Encinitas this Wednesday. They will be spread at a memorial paddle-out at Blake’s local spot, D-Street, next Monday, August 24, at 10 am. If you’re in the area, please feel free to join. 

In response to Blake’s passing, the Encinitas Lifesaving Association is taking donations, which will be used to provide lifesaving support and training in foreign surfing nations. For those wishing to donate, please go to the Encinitas Lifesaving Association FaceBook page.

Our sincere condolences to Blake’s friends and family. 

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