Apple Watch helps save kitesurfer in shark-infested waters

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Photo: Apple

An Apple Watch-wearing kitesurfer claims the device saved his life after he got stranded off the California coast in shark-infested waters.

John Zilles, 49, crashed while riding a hydrofoil, and was left unable to relaunch his kite. Thankfully, he was able to use the cellular capabilities of his new Apple Watch Series 3 to call the Coast Guard.

“I was out learning to foil on a light wind, and was cruising along, proud of myself, and realized I was quite a way offshore,’ Zilles told the Daily Mail. “I had a huge wipeout, and my hydrofoil skated away from me. As I was swimming away, my kite fell down, and because it was a calm day so I couldn’t get it to fly again. Suddenly I was a mile offshore and my ride was over.”

After spending 20 minutes attempting to get his kite to fly again, Zilles decided to start swimming to shore, which he says was easier said than done due to the large amount of gear he had with him.

Checking his Apple Watch for the time, Zilles then remembered that the LTE-enabled Series 3 model can also make phone calls.

“I was really surprised that I had a strong signal, so I called my kids, and said, ‘Don’t worry, I crashed and I’m swimming to shore, and will be home late. I then called my son back, and asked him to send me the number of the Coast Guard, just in case.”

His son sent the number, and Zilles — starting to freak out about the prospect of great white sharks in the area — called the Coast Guard to alert them of his situation. He stayed on the line to explain his exact location to the crew of the rescue boat dispatched to help him.

Zilles says that he was so impressed by the Apple Watch’s capabilities that he wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook to tell him the story, and got a “short but sweet” reply, saying, “Wow. Happy to hear you are safe.”

  • Adam Gordon

    I am a Level 3 PASA Certified Kiteboarding instructor. I advocate for the safety and access of the sport. It is my belief that Zilles showed poor judgment. If Zilles was at the level to be able to learn to use a foil board, he should also have developed the awareness to be able to recognize that “suddenly being” a mile offshore, even with a non-foil board, is not only dangerous, but puts those that would help him at risk. He should have the control to not “suddenly” end up a mile offshore (IE go in sideshore or side-on winds; perform a self-rescue before getting far offshore, etc..). As kiteboarders, we simply don’t go far offshore. And when learning a new piece of equipment, we hug the shore. A light wind scenario makes it doubly dangerous because, as it happened, relaunch and return via kite is less likely.

    This is not a good scenario for Apple to advertise the Apple Watch. Wouldn’t Apple want to associate themselves with heroes, good choices, success? Oh, and where were the sharks mentioned in the title?