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...if you're comfy in the surf zone to begin with."
One may want to read John Lull's book on sea kayak rescues for an alternative opinion on whether surf zone rescues are "no big deal".
Personally I'll go with Mr. Lull's take on the subject. He has a bit more creds than the sum total of most of us here on pnet.
...just trying to start a thoughtful conversation and solicit some opinions.
I have to take issue with your remark about rescues in the surf zone. I'm quite comfortable in surf, as are the people I typically paddle with, but that didn't prevent 3 of us from getting pitchpoled by an aberrant 10' breaker while attempting a rescue close to shore, also during a training session(most waves at the time were rollers closer to 4-5'). None of us was seriously injured, but it was enough to teach me that rescues in breaking surf are dangerous due to the unpredictable conditions and should be avoided if at all possible.
I won't argue that letting the boat and paddler drift into shore wasn't the best option; given the conditions, it was the wise choice.
It appears, however, that the rescuers did a less than stellar job of protecting themselves, particularly the guy on the left. He was spending so much time watching the empty boat that he got whacked from behind. Based on the stills, it looks like the other rescuer got "Maytagged" too. Perhaps it was unavoidable, but it does raise questions, since the #1 tenet of rescues is: "Don't create more victims"
I would argue that the rescuer that went to the swimmer should have kept a safe distance away once he determined that he was OK and was going to swim into shore. The risk of the swimmer being injured by the pitching boat is too great in breaking waves.
It appeared that there was a section of relative calm just outside the shore break where a rescue could have been attempted, provided that their position was stabilized with tow. However, but there's not enough footage to be able to tell if that calmer area was consistent or if it's just a temporary lull, in which case it wouldn't have been an option.
I agree that it does look considerably rougher farther out and that getting there would have been difficult or impossible, anyway.