Two members of the San Diego Seals professional lacrosse team were rescued from heavy surf Thursday morning at Sunset Cliffs. Both suffered only minor injuries.
The Seals players — identified for the Union-Tribune by the team as Nick Ossello and Baltimore native Garrett Epple — asked a bystander to film them jumping off the cliffs and into the Pacific Ocean at a well-known spot called “The Arch,” according to a report and accompanying video by OnSceneTV.
Witnesses told OnSceneTV the athletes were wearing only board shorts, and after jumping in they were overcome by roiling, 60-degree water at a time when high surf warnings have been issued for much of the county’s coastline. A San Diego Lifeguard spokesman said waves were 4 to 6 feet at the time.
Called to the scene at 10:45 a.m., lifeguards reached one of the men via a watercraft. A lifeguard jumped into the water, reached the man and swam back to the craft with him. He was taken to the Ocean Beach lifeguard headquarters with injuries reported to be minor.
The other man managed to climb onto a cliff ledge. He was reached by a lifeguard and hoisted up by a rope pulley system.
“The Arches” at Sunset Cliffs is frequented by thrill-seekers who regularly draw a police presence. San Diego Municipal Code bans people from jumping in the ocean at a height greater than 5 feet.
“This rescue exemplifies how dangerous it can be,” San Diego Lifeguard spokesman Rick Strobel told OnScene.TV. “It’s a dangerous jump to begin with, and with heavy surf, it’s extremely dangerous, and it’s illegal.”
Jim Grant, a witness who watched and photographed the incident, told OnScene.TV that the two men stood at the top of the cliff, considering a jump, and then handed their phones to a bystander to film the leap.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Grant, adding that he attempted to tell the men to stop.
“They were doing OK for maybe 30 to 40 seconds. After that, they were done. They were fighting it really hard.”
Of the man who eventually was washed back toward the cliff, Grant said, “He was being raked along the rocks. He looked like a bowling ball being pushed by the water.”
Grant called the watercraft rescue a “fantastic” effort by lifeguards.
In a statement, the Seals said, “We have been staying in close touch with our players and are relieved to report that everyone is safe.”
The San Diego Seals are an expansion team in the National Lacrosse League and are set to host their inaugural home opener on Saturday night at Pechanga Arena San Diego.
According to the Seals website, Epple, 23, is a 6-foot-2, 225-pound defender from Baltimore. Ossello, whose age is not identified, is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound practice squad player from Wheat Ridge, Colo. He played college lacrosse at Notre Dame from 2011-15 and was a walk-on linebacker as a fifth-year senior for the Fighting Irish football team in 2015.
Epple was a four-year starting defenseman at Calvert Hall and an Under Armour All-American before playing for Notre Dame, where he became a first-team All-American. Epple also played football for the Cardinals, becoming a team captain his senior season.
Staff writer Teri Figueroa contributed to this report.