It's pretty much accepted wisdom by now that GoPro cameras are tough. They can (apparently) survive 12,500-foot falls, kayakers take them through the washing-machine hydraulics of Class V rapids and over 100-foot waterfalls, they hold on when climbers let go and they can survive a grizzly's powerful jaws. In the end, that go-anywhere, record-anything quality—plus phenomenal image quality—is why we named a GoPro to our list of the Best Sports Cameras of 2013, and maybe we shouldn't be surprised by this story of GoPro survival. But this one involves a surfer getting his stoke back.
Last week, the first powerful summer swells pounded Hawaii's south shores. The 6- to 10-foot waves led to dozens of rescues up and down the coasts, as swimmers got in over their heads and, as you'd imagine, surfers putting in extra sessions at every available opportunity. Alex Vaquer was among the stoked surfers early Friday morning, when he put in a pre-work session at China Walls in Hawaii Kai.
On his fifth wave, though, he wiped out hard. "I didn't make the drop," he told local fox affiliate KHON2, "the leash broke and I saw the board just drifting forever." But Vaquer kept his wits about him and, rather than chase after the board, which was now caught up in a powerful current called the "Molakai Express," he swam to safety.
As for his surboard and the GoPro mounted on its deck, Vaquer watched them from shore through binoculars as they were swept hopelessly out to sea. Needless to say, he had lost his stoke. "I was so sad the whole day Friday. I was all grumbling."
Over the weekend, though, Vaquer received an unexpected phone call. A fishing charter had spotted his surfboard floating roughly 18 miles off of Oahu, camera still attached. They pulled it aboard and, when they opened the GoPro's protective plastic case, found Vaquer's phone number written on the back.
Not only did the camera survive, but it recorded a full hour of its impromptu escape and subsequent pounding by the waves before running out of memory.
"I can see Hawaii Kai getting slowly far and far away on its way to Molokai or Japan, who knows," the surfer told television reporters. "Sad and alone in the middle of the ocean." But thanks to the aloha spirit—and a tough little camera with a bombproof mounting mechanism—he's got a story to tell, and show to, his fellow surfers.