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Near-Drowning Inspires Man To Teach Water Safety Courses

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The non-profit Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project is conducting water safety and rescue courses in Chicago this weekend as the beach season gets underway.

WBBM's Mike Krauser reports there were about 50 people, mostly life guards, are putting in some classroom time at the Clarendon Park Fieldhouse before getting into the still very cold water at Montrose Beach.

Near-Drowning Inspires Man To Teach Water Safety Courses

Dave Benjamin is the executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, a self-funded venture born out of his personal experience. It was the day after Christmas in 2010 when Benjamin was surfing in Portage.

"The last minute there is this big wave on me and so I just paddle for it real quick, caught it late and it catapulted me over. I landed flat on my back and got the wind knocked out of me and at the same moment the wave closed out on me and flushed my wetsuit with 30 degree water and pushed me to the bottom," said Benjamin.

He said he panicked, which is one of the things that gets people in trouble into more trouble. Since surviving that incident, Benjamin and former Lansing firefighter Bob Pratt have made it their mission to prevent drowning on the Great Lakes.

One area they cover on the course is recognizing when someone is drowning, which seems pretty obvious.
"People think that drowning is waving and splashing and yelling when actually drowning is silent, swift and permanent," said Benjamin.

The person is typically vertical in the water he says with their head tilted back.
A long-term goal of the Surf Rescue Project is water safety curriculum in schools.

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