Famous for Another|Fifteen Minutes

     I was watching video of a daring rescue recently when I recognized the firefighter rappelling from a California Highway Patrol helicopter. I’d made a video of that fireman a few years ago that garnered national attention.
     How odd, I thought, that one person would be in two viral videos from the same place, on different topics.
     I interviewed Todd Gailey at Morro Rock about his 3-year-old son, Triston, in 2013. Gailey had told a co-worker of mine that his son was a good surfer, and the reporter passed the tip to me.
     OK, sure, I figured, picturing Dad shoving Junior into the whitewater for half a second in three inches of water.
     Whatever. Americans love cute kids. And I never turn down an opportunity to go to the beach on the clock.
     Triston had little to say about surfing.
     “Daddy, I want to go find squirrels!” he said.
     Oh, boy. At least this is my last day before a week off, I thought. To compensate for this dud of a story, I’d reward myself with a few waves before heading back to the office.
     Triston wandered off so I focused on Todd, who told me his son was the most coordinated 3-year-old he’d ever seen — “just a natural.” Triston came back and offered each of us one of two rocks he’d found.
     “I got ’em for you guys,” he said. “For the squirrels. You guys can feed ’em to the squirrels!”
     I sped through my questions, and in the shadow of the 600-foot Morro Rock, I followed, GoPro in hand, as Todd led his squirrel-loving son into the water. They went farther than I had anticipated, and when a wave came … Triston dropped into it standing up, and rode the open face.
     Just like a real surfer.
     The future Kelly Slater trimmed on a few waves before another distraction — a woman holding an iguana on the beach — put an end to the day’s session.
     It made for a cute story and video. As my vacation began the next Monday, the London Daily Mail emailed me, asking to use my video. Then “Good Morning America.” Then “ABC World News.” All within half an hour.
     Meanwhile, Todd Gailey was at the summit of an 11,000-foot mountain in Yosemite and the “Today Show” texted him, asking for an interview and a time to make a video of their own.
     Then came the Miami Herald, Newsday, The Washington Post. The story was translated into French, Spanish and Japanese.
     Apparently, the entire world loves stories about cute kids.
     I’d covered sensational murder trials, interviewed scores of celebrities and written features carried by national outlets, but none of them grabbed the world’s attention like The Surfing Toddler.
     “It definitely goes to show you how hungry the world is for good news,” Todd told me later.
     I heard no more about Todd Gailey until this month, when Michael John Paul Banks, 27, of Fresno, decided to climb Morro Rock a few yards from where I’d watched Triston surf.
     It’s illegal to climb “The Rock” and very dangerous. But Banks wanted to propose to his girlfriend, via FaceTime, from the top of the dome-shaped giant. Why he had to wear a wetsuit for that still hasn’t been addressed.
     The girlfriend said yes, and Banks began his descent. But he’s clearly not the experienced climber that Todd Gailey is.
     Before long, a helicopter was hovering dangerously close to The Rock as Banks clung to a ledge 70 feet from the ground. CHP video shot from the chopper shows Todd Gailey rappelling down, fighting the wind, then grabbing Banks before both were lifted to safety.
     The day after Gailey plucked Banks from The Rock, he was ubiquitous again: The Guardian and the Daily Mail, ABC News, CBS News, The Chicago Sun-Times, New York Post, New York Daily News.
     Banks was arrested hours later for allegedly acting bizarrely while on the beach, not far from his rescue. It’s not clear why he was acting oddly, though the police believe drugs were involved.
     Triston might say it had something to do with squirrels.

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