Setting off amid serene conditions in the warm month of July, Tomasz Oleksik embarked on a seemingly innocuous paddleboarding trip with his teenage son. What was intended as a laid back journey from Studland Bay to Old Harry Rocks turned into a harrowing experience that would leave him with a profound respect for nature’s unpredictable temperament.
The 45-year-old man’s tranquil sea voyage was shattered when an unexpected wave toppled him from his board. An intense struggle against the riptides ensued; seven relentless hours spent wrestling with the turbulent waters off the Dorset coast.
The experience reached its nerve-wracking apex when he drifted miles out to sea, separated from the reassurance of the shoreline. His 16-year-old son’s figure also vanished from sight, swallowed by the vast expanse of the ocean. Rendered powerless against the emerald waves and buffeting winds, the Bristol holidaymaker clung desperately to his only hope of survival – his paddleboard and buoyancy aid.
His tale took a desperate turn when, in his disoriented state, his fight subsided into a fitful sleep on the turbulent seas, cradled by his buoyancy aid and the rhythm of the swells. The buzzing roar of helicopter blades searching for him broke his surreal slumber.
In the nick of time, a vigilant lifeboat crew spotted his beleaguered figure approximately 3.6 miles east of Old Harry Rocks. It was nearly two hours later that signs of his son emerged – a lone figure trudging towards Bournemouth from Hengistbury Head, fortunate enough to have made it ashore.
The sweeping relief of their reunion was tinted with the gravity of the lesson learnt through this ordeal. Reflecting on his experience, Oleksik expressed his newfound acknowledgment of the power of nature, cautioning fellow paddleboarders to never undermine the importance of being adequately prepared – a sentiment that resonated with the experienced RNLI crew that participated in the rescue. They echoed his views, emphasizing the element of luck that had played a crucial role in their survival.
“What I’ve learned from this precarious adventure is not something to be taken lightly,” he shared, “For every paddleboarder out there, always be prepared and respectful of the wind and tides. Check weather forecasts, ensure you’re conversant with the tidal patterns, and most importantly, always wear a buoyancy aid. Your life may hinge on it.”
Indeed, as the RNLI aptly stated, Oleksik and his son were “incredibly lucky”.