by Mike Kord
first appeared in August 2005 issue
The anesthesiologist peered down at the patient and said, "You're going to surgery now. You won't feel anything, and when you awake, you will feel great."
These were just the right words for Tsunami Rangers cofounder Eric Soares to hear as he prepared to go under for his second aorta surgery in six weeks, especially after the surgeon had just told him bluntly, "We don't know if we can save you."
When Soares was five years old, his father would throw money in a pool and tell him, "Go get it." This is how he learned to swim, and beyond that how to improvise, adapt, and overcome—a skill that he would often call upon when exploring the rocky, stormy coast of California.
Soares uses a method called peng, which enables him to remain calm and confident even when bravely swimming through rough ocean water to retrieve kayaks washed away by the Pacific.
Soares operates on another level. Where others see the impossible, he sees fun, like paddling the 25-foot monster waves that appear as suddenly as lightning off Pillar Point. When others cower, Soares radiates an immovable energy that defies everything, even, at times, Mother Nature.
He's brash, irreverent, and outspoken. On Golden Gate Bridge suicide jumpers: "Protective barriers? We should put up a slippery ramp with a big sign that says, "Jump Here!" Yet he's gentle and caring, the type who would rather pick up a wayward worm and place it in a garden than step on it.
He is not, however, as many would believe, crazy. He's organized and methodical. A student of martial arts, Soares uses a method called peng, which enables him to remain calm and confident even when bravely swimming through rough ocean water to retrieve kayaks washed away by the Pacific.
"He's saved quite a few lives," said fellow Ranger and pal Michael Powers.
So it was ironic when this indomitable man put his own life in the hands of a surgeon who would have to improvise, adapt, and overcome the inherent challenges of emergency surgery to discover what was wrong with his aorta and keep Soares alive. "He told me, 'I'm gonna have to wing it.”
Kayaking again wasn't the concern. Breathing again was. When Soares awoke 11 hours later, his fists were clenched, as they had been throughout the surgery. He was in fight mode. He felt great, as the anesthesiologist had said he would. He just didn't know if he was alive.
But when Soares participated in the perilous annual Sea Gypsy Race last May, there was no question that he was in fact alive—and the indomitable man is not going anywhere for a long time.
On the Homefront
- Resides: Half Moon Bay with his wife, Nancy, and stepson Nick
- Occupation: Marketing professor at Cal State University, East Bay
- Music That Reminds You of Kayaking: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
- Are You More Likely to Say, "I heard it on NPR" or "Well, Sean Hannity says . . .": (Laughs) "I'm more likely to say, 'I heard it on Air America.' "
- Favorite Book: Lord of the Rings
- Words You Live By: "Go for it! NOW!"
- Off the Water: Practicing the martial art Ten Chi Do
- Dog or cat: "Well, birds."