One minute Balaram Stack was resting on his surfboard, waiting to catch a wave.
The next, the 17-year-old was deep in the swirling waters off Virginia Beach, Va., trying desperately to rescue a man tossed overboard by an unexpected set of waves.
"I saw the boat go up but I didn't think anything had happened," Stack, of Point Lookout, said by telephone Saturday. "Then I saw this guy on the boat screaming and yelling, calling us over."
Instantly, Stack and three other surfers competing in the 47th East Coast Surfing Championships on Friday morning dived into the water, trying to find Tong Xiao, 31, of Brooklyn, who had been fishing with a friend. The surfers' attempts - 15 or 20 minutes of repeated dives - were in vain; more than two hours after going into the water, Xiao's body was recovered by emergency personnel.
"We kept diving down but there was nothing there," said Stack, who was eventually joined in the rescue attempt by 15 or 20 surfers. "I felt so bad, especially for the guy on the boat and what he was going through."
Xiao was not wearing a life vest, according to a story in The Virginian-Pilot, and he apparently hit his head on the boat when the swell knocked him overboard.
"It was just unfortunate . . . It was a sunny day and the waves were not too big," he said. "Then a random set just surprised the boat."
Kevin Gaydosh, a surfing championships spokesman, said the conditions were good for surfers. "The area for our competition is cordoned off," he said. "Where they were fishing . . . was good for our competitors but treacherous for boaters."
Shortly before Xiao went overboard, surf officials said they had been ordering the boat's operator to move from the area.
Stack's mother, Mary, said she was proud of her son's rescue effort. "He called me immediately after it happened," she said. "I told him to pray for the soul who was lost. And I told him what he did was a kind and beautiful thing."