Mater Dei water polo player rescues teammate in surfing accident


Mater Dei freshman Riley Miller loves the water. He played on the frosh-soph water polo team, plans to swim in the spring and surfs on weekends. But the 15-year-old believes a recent trip to the beach could have been his last if not for the quick actions of classmate James Stanton.

Miller, a Huntington Beach resident, woke up before dawn on Saturday, Nov. 4 to go surfing with Stanton and four other water polo teammates at Mater Dei.

Clad in wet suits, the boys hit the surf just south of the Huntington Beach pier around 7 a.m. They surfed for a couple hours before Miller playfully dove off his 8-foot board during a lull in the action.

Miller misjudged the depth of the water and slammed the top of his head on the ocean floor. The impact left him temporarily paralyzed and floating with the aid of his wet suit on his back in a few feet of water.

He called for Stanton and another friend, Erik Franck, but believed they didn’t hear him. Miller feared the next set of rolling waves would flip him face down in the ocean, causing him to drown.

“I was just thinking RIP, like I’m gone,” Miller said. “But then James saw me.”

Stanton, a sophomore and Huntington Beach resident, spotted Miller floating and applied a rescue technique he learned while a member of Orange County Junior Guards. Using a maneuver known by lifeguards as the “full nelson”, the 16-year-old placed his arms under Miller’s arm pits, held the sides of Miller’s head and stabilized the neck as he pulled his friend from the ocean to the sand.

“I just like being able to help people,” said Stanton, who aspires to be a lifeguard like his brother, Skyler, and his father, Brian, a former lifeguard.

Before long, Miller regained movement on the beach and was transported to Hoag Hospital for testing. His friend, Colin Weaver, road in the ambulance while Miller’s mother, Nadia, drove to the hospital from her youngest son’s basketball game in Fullerton.

“Scariest thing that has ever happened to me being a mom,” she said.

Miller recovered quickly. He has returned to school and even to surfing with his same group of friends.

“He’s so very lucky,” Nadia said. “It’s truly a miracle that he didn’t break anything.”

Miller said Stanton provided another blessing.

“He saved my life,” Miller said. “(He’s) a hero.”



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