When John Tyler Cragg first hung a Rescue Tube on a Kauai beach in 2008, he was simply a good-hearted individual doing what he thought would save a few people from drowning each year.
What he didn’t anticipate is that more than 70 lives would be saved on Kauai with Rescue Tubes since that day, and probably more because many rescues aren’t reported.
“When I first started we were losing about 12 people per year to drowning at our beaches, so I envisioned that number going down significantly, but I never imagined Rescue Tubes would save so many lives,” says John, clearly elated. “It’s beyond my dreams.”
A soft-spoken Kauai resident, John owns lifeguard, swimming and CPR training businesses on Kauai and on the mainland (www.jtacpr.com) and uses Rescue Tubes in his professional capacity. On Kauai, he knew that people were grabbing whatever they could find on a moment’s notice to rescue swimmers in distress, especially at the island’s unlifeguarded beaches, even broken surfboards. “Now they can use something that is made for that purpose,” he says.
Ingeniously simple, a Rescue Tube is a 50-inch long thick piece of foam that is buoyant enough to support three adults. An eight-foot long cord is attached to the tube making it quick and easy to drape over the rescuer’s shoulder while swimming out. Silkscreened on one side of the tube are at-a-glance instructions of how to use the device.
“A Rescue Tube keeps a barrier between the rescuer and rescuee which is very important because you want them to grab something – that is not you – to keep them afloat,” John says. “If those tubes weren’t there, I don’t think so many people would have the courage to swim out and rescue people.”
“Don’t stop someone from doing good”
When John first began placing Rescue Tubes on Kauai’s beaches, he met some resistance and negativity. “I had a lot of naysayers,” he says. “I was only hanging them on trees at the start and people said they would get stolen or that there would be liability issues.
“I said politely, ‘Back off,’ to those negative comments,” John says. “Don’t stop someone from doing some good.”
He was right on target. Two weeks after he hung a tube at Lumahai Beach on Kauai’s north shore, a 15-year-old saved a 40-year-old with a Rescue Tube, keeping the man afloat and gently kicking toward shore until lifeguards arrived on jet-skis from Hanalei 20 minutes later.
Two more people who are grateful for John’s determination are Corrinne “Cori” and Craig Beck, owners of Garden Isle Bath & Body in Kapaa, who were both caught in a rip tide at Moloaa Bay last September, a month before Craig’s 70th birthday.
After swimming in the morning with friends then having lunch on the beach, Cori returned that afternoon to swim in the inviting crystal clear water.
“I was just floating around for awhile. When I tried to swim in to shore, I was being pulled down and out,” Cori says.
Craig, sensing something was wrong, began wading in to see what was happening. When Cori called to him, “I can’t get in,” he swam out and was immediately caught in the undertow, too. “He got to me, then he went by me,” Cori says. “I heard him say, ‘We need some help out here.’ “
Both strong and athletic all of their lives, Cori and Craig were stunned – and after struggling to stay afloat, they were exhausted. “Another 30 seconds, I’d have been a casualty,” Craig says.
“I looked back at him, he just looked like he’d succumbed to it. He was drifting away from me,” Cori says, choking up.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, two young women about 19 years old swam out to Craig with a Rescue Tube and asked him, “Can you hang onto this?” He draped himself over the thick foam tube, began catching his breath and said to the women, “Oh you guys are beautiful. You have got to be angels.” Together the three gently kicked into shore and the two ladies hauled Craig onto his beach chair.
Meanwhile, a woman with a British accent, swam out to Cori and gave her a Rescue Tube. “I said, ‘What about you?’ but she just swam away,” Cori says with gratitude.
The Becks don’t know who their rescuers are – they disappeared as quickly as they appeared – but last week they had the opportunity to meet John, the man who started Rescue Tubes on Kauai. With tears his eyes, Craig gave John a big bear hug and said, “It’s because of you that we’re alive.”
Extremely humble, John credits his kumu hula (hula instructor) Puna Dawson with encouraging him to keep placing Rescue Tubes around the island in the early years, regardless of what skeptics said. “She said when the intention is pure, people will support you.”
John’s advice for others: “Follow something that’s in your heart that you know is helpful and people will get behind it after they see it’s working,” he says quietly. “We all have our own skills that can make the world a better place.”
Rescue Tubes are now being placed around the island by the non-profit Kauai Lifeguard Association, helmed by Dr. Monty Downs, and the Rescue Tube Foundation, Inc., a non-profit corporation created by the Rotary Club of Hanalei. Each Rescue Tube costs only $90 installed. Downs would like to see at least 50 more Rescue Tubes on Kauai’s beaches. Donations for Rescue Tubes can be made at www.kauailifeguards.org or by mailing a check to Kauai Lifeguard Association, 160 Lani Alii Place, Kapaa, HI 96746
• Pamela Varma Brown is the publisher of “Kauai Stories,” and the forthcoming “Kauai Stories 2.”