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Bodysurfing Accident Kills Man Off Huntington Beach

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 49-year-old bodysurfer died Sunday night after a powerful wave swept him off his feet, sent him head-first into the ocean floor and apparently broke his neck, lifeguards said.

Robert Gawn of Norco was bodysurfing with relatives just north of Beach Boulevard about 7 p.m., city Marine Safety Officer Mike Bartlett said.

“A lifeguard noticed that he wasn’t getting up and responded immediately,” Bartlett said. “They noticed right away that he had a cervical injury, stabilized his head and dragged him onto the sand, where he went into cardiac arrest.”

Gawn was taken to Pacifica Hospital in Huntington Beach, where he was pronounced dead.

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Bartlett said Gawn was bodysurfing in 3- to 5-foot waves in 2 to 3 feet of water, which can lead to such accidents.

“When the surf is up like that and is really shallow, we typically get quite a few cervical injuries from people who hit their head,” Bartlett said. “But this was the worst-case scenario. We did everything we could to keep him alive.”

Bartlett said that earlier Sunday, another man, who was bodysurfing in about the same area, also hit his head on the ocean floor but his injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.

“When the surf is up like this and the waves are breaking real hard on the sand, swimmers have to use extreme caution,” Bartlett said. “You need to try and put your hands out in front of you to break your fall.”

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