Paddleboarder's rescue aided by cellphone

With the wind at his back, Brian Hopkins,

With the wind at his back, Brian Hopkins, 32, of Rockville Centre, said he was making good time paddling in the waters off Robert Moses State Park when winds pushed him further out to sea. (May 26, 2013) (Credit: News12 Long Island)

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What started out as a routine, rigorous workout became a fight to stay alive, an experienced paddleboarder nearly blown out to sea said Sunday.

With the wind at his back, Brian Hopkins, 32, of Rockville Centre, said he was making good time paddling in the waters off Robert Moses State Park Saturday afternoon.

But when the wind turned north and blew stronger, and the waves reached 6 to 8 feet, Hopkins found himself being quickly pushed out to sea -- and unable to return to shore, he said in an interview Sunday.

"I was paddling for a half-hour straight, and I wasn't moving," said Hopkins, who works as a lifeguard at the park. "I thought I could get through it, but I went to exhaustion. I just couldn't do it anymore."

He grabbed his phone, in a waterproof case, and called 911. Knocked around by the waves on the paddleboard, which resembles a long surfboard, Hopkins lost his glasses in the sea and almost lost his grip on the phone. His wet suit top and shorts did little to protect him from the 52-degree water.

Sgt. Paul Mercready of the Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau responded with three boats, accompanied by a Coast Guard boat, while a Suffolk police helicopter hovered overhead to try to locate Hopkins.

Hopkins said he couldn't see the rescue craft through the high waters, but he spotted the helicopter.

"Once I saw the helicopter, I knew I was going to be OK," he said.

The water was so rough that day that the water taxis had suspended service, and a small-craft warning was in effect, Mercready said. The waves tossed the boats, making it difficult for rescuers to see the horizon.

"When you're on the surface, you look up and see water," he said.

Hopkins was rescued about a mile off shore and was treated for hypothermia by a paramedic on one of the boats. He declined to make a trip to a hospital.

Hopkins' cellphone, it turned out, was key to his survival, Mercready said.

"He is so lucky he had that phone," he said. "Had he not had that cellphone, he would be a missing person at this point."

Hopkins, who said he's been paddleboarding for seven or eight years, said he plans to personally thank everyone involved in his rescue.

"I will never go out again with the winds like that," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are. In the ocean, you've got to respect" it.

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