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Joe Surf: He's a warrior for the water

May 25, 2011|By Joe Haakenson

At first glance, one might see "Eco-Warrior" and think it's this summer's blockbuster with DiCaprio or Pitt or Affleck.

No, it's just little ol' James Pribram trying to save the world.

Don't think he can do it? Don't tell that to Maira Khan, whom Pribram rescued last month when Khan was swept off the rocks and into the ocean at Pearl Street Beach in Laguna.

Pribram was on the balcony of his parents' home when he saw the 6-foot wave crash into Khan, who had her back to the ocean as she posed for a picture. Oh, and she can't swim. Pribram yelled for his mom to dial 911 and rushed into the water to save her.

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She calls him her hero. Can't argue with that. Pribram was happy to help, but his vision is much grander than one rescue.

He really is the Eco Warrior, having created the Eco-Warrior Project in 2006 in an effort to save the planet's oceans and beaches. It all started back in 1997, when Pribram was living every grom's dream as a professional surfer.

He started surfing when he was 6 — the natural thing to do when you live so close to the beach that sand is a type of flooring in your home. By the time he was 11, he was winning local contests. He was a member of the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. team for two years, taking fourth at nationals one year, and turned pro at age 18 in 1990 after finishing up at Laguna Beach High School. But seven years later, his career — and life — took a hard right.

He was giving a friend a surfing lesson one summer day at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point when he suffered a small scratch on his wrist that quickly got worse. It swelled up and became so painful he made a trip to the emergency room.

The trip saved his life.

Pribram had contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph infection, which would have killed him if he had waited a few more hours before seeing a doctor.

That kind of ticked him off, and it got him thinking.

"I remember that day like it was yesterday," said Pribram, now 40. "It was a beautiful August day and it hadn't rained in months. The next thing I know I'm in the hospital strapped up with multiple IVs. It changed the way I looked at the ocean.

"It was kind of like surfing for me. My two paths in life really chose me more than I chose them."

Pribram continuing surfing competitively through 2001, and even had his best year that year, reaching the semifinals of the Billabong Pro in Costa Rica and the quarterfinals of the Billabong Pro in Panama.

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