Ohio rescuers descend on river surfer who really wasn't drowning

PHOTO: Shannon Thomas drew the attention of authorities after people called 911, worried that he was in distress.PlayShannon Thomas
WATCH Emergency crews try to rescue surfer who wasn't drowning

Shannon Thomas was surfing in the Great Miami River Monday when Dayton, Ohio, police, park rangers and firefighters pulled up.

Thomas, 32, frequently surfs the RiverScape River Run, which is part of a course for surfers, kayakers and canoers. But he had never done it before when the river was at flood stage, he told ABC News today.

Authorities arrived after reportedly receiving 911 calls about a person possibly in distress in downtown Dayton, which Thomas blamed on a lack of awareness about river surfing.

“I only say that because a lot of people don’t understand the safety aspects and how if you take those precautions, there really isn’t much danger,” the freelance graphic designer said. “I even studied the river for 20 minutes before getting in. I had a surf partner who watched me, who could jump in after me if something happened.”

In the video Thomas posted on his Facebook Page, he can be seen surfing while first responders gather at the edge of the river. “I didn’t surf too hard because I knew it was my last surf. So I just stayed on the wave as long as I could so responders could see I was in no danger and knew what I was doing,” Thomas said.

He wore a wetsuit and a personal flotation device while he was in the water. Police told Thomas there are no laws stopping him from surfing in the river, but that his hobby was “inducing panic,” he said.

“I’ve had police and rescue show up before there while I was surfing in winter at lower levels, but they saw that I had a wetsuit and PFD; knew what I was doing, waved at me and then left,” he said.

Thomas has been surfing in the area for about two years. He has also been paddle-boarding, rafting, kayaking and canoeing in the area, he said.

He was visiting his hometown of Dayton at the time. He now lives in a van with his dog, traveling fulltime and competing in surfing competitions, he said.

“It was a blast surfing,” he said of the river experience. “Huge glassy waves.”