On Friday afternoon, after a morning of surfing in preparation for Saturday’s Surf the Basin competition, John Barber was taking a breather. He was watching fellow surfers ride the waves near Paseo and talking to competition organizers who were setting up.
Then the thunder boomed.
A minute later, someone pointed out that a British Terrier was in the water. The beloved dog, Britain, belongs to a fellow surfer whom Barber considers a brother.
“He freaked out because he heard thunder,” Barber explained, saying Britain jumped in the water and tried to swim to his owner, Addison Moyer. “The thunder freaked him out so he was trying to get to Addy (who) was out there but he was far out.”
Barber said it took him and others a minute or two to figure out what happened.
“He was about 30 feet from the rocks,” Barber explained. “But we didn’t really realize what was going on … and the waves and the current were really strong and he was being pulled into the middle of the channel … this is like a minute after he jumped in.”
Barber, knowing the danger of the waves in the channel, which have flipped over boats and canoes and pulled unsuspecting swimmers out only to hurl them into the reef, started running.
“I ran to my car to grab my fins and my board, then ran all the way out to the jetty … I realized he was getting sucked into the right side jetty … and from there you could get sucked out and possibly thrown into the reef and get some broken bones … and for a little dog like him – you can just imagine what might happen,” he said.
Barber said he jumped and swam to Britain. He was just a few feet from Britain, who was still valiantly kicking and keeping his head above water.
“I pushed the board towards him so he could jump on … the moment I put the board less than a foot from him, and he just sank,” Barber said. “When I saw his head go down, I dove … and grabbed him.
“Luckily, right then there was a window, the waves got calm for the moment, I feel like God was watching over us … I was able to get us to shore and I don’t know if Britain had swallowed water but by the time we got to shore he was shivering but breathing,” Barber said.
“I really want to give God the credit, He put me in there, He chose me to jump in and grab Britain … I’ve got to give God the glory in this. I feel like He was watching over us and making sure we were all safe out here.”
Barber’s heroic actions were caught by fellow surfer and photographer Omar Nobuo, who posted pictures on Facebook with the caption: “Local Surfer, Saves Friend. Hero 100% heart.”
“It’s been ‘liked’ almost 8,000 times,” Nobuo said. “It’s crazy … I nearly turned off my Facebook notifications because it was just beeping all the time.”
Nobuo said he’s proud of his friend’s selfless act in saving Britain.
“Yeah, everyone loves that dog,” he said.
Nobuo added: "I just wanted to put in that John was there all day. "(The) guy was exhausted. But in the moment ... adrenaline overcame and he went out there and did what he did. Big Ups John!"
GFD, Coast Guard are there everyday
And while Barber appreciates everyone’s comments, he was quick to note: “The real heroes are the people who are out here all the time – big ups to (Guam Fire Department) and the Coast Guard for doing what they do every day… I’ve seen some of their rescues … and not all of their rescues get put out in the paper or online.”
When in doubt, don't go out
Barber reiterated the need for people to be aware of the conditions when they go out “swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, surfing,” and to be aware of their own abilities and limitations. He added some advice to surfers who are just learning the patterns of Guam’s waves, currents and tides, all of which he says are a must: “If you can’t swim out to the area … that you’re looking at and coming back in, in the surf conditions you’re looking at … then you shouldn’t go out.”
“I know GFD and Coast Guard is out there (but) we can prevent situations where we put ourselves, other surfers and rescuers at risk,” he said.
“And if I can also add … anybody can be a hero by adopting a dog from Guam Animals In Need and making sure they have a safe home.”