A bad feeling briefly seized Haley Ryckman as she made her way to Goleta Beach earlier this month with fellow Goleta Valley Junior High eighth-graders and friends, who planned to stand-up paddle board after a short, minimum school day.
A slightly overcast day, the 13-year-old almost didn’t bring her Goleta family’s GoPro video camera for fear of losing it, but decided to anyway.
Her premonition rang true a short time later, when the small camera and its accompanying head strap slipped off her surfboard as she struggled to climb back on after a fall.
Down into the murky water the camera went, seemingly along with the Ryckman family’s hope of retrieving it.
The story could have ended there as an unfortunate accident, and a lesson learned, except for the mysterious events that followed and prompted the family to share the account.
Friends and strangers searched that day until dark, finding no trace of the expensive, wide-lens camera — billed as the world’s most versatile. Subsequent frustrated hunts with a flashlight and goggles also came up empty.
Haley was still brainstorming ways to raise the $500 to replace the GoPro on the following Sunday when the doorbell rang.
Her dad, Todd Ryckman, director of technology in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, answered the front door and found no one outside.
Walking out farther, he saw an unfamiliar bike on the lawn and a man, who looked like he was in his 50s, staring at the house.
He asked if Ryckman had lost a camera.
Certain the GoPro was already sunk, Ryckman said he hadn’t.
The stranger insisted he was at the right house — “the brown one with white trim” — and told Ryckman he had dropped a camera over the fence in the backyard.
Confused, Ryckman ran to the backyard and, sure enough, found the lost, fully functioning GoPro inside an envelope.
He ran to thank the stranger, who was already gone, leaving questions in his wake.
The Ryckmans want to solve the mystery by finding the Good Samaritan and properly giving thanks.
“There are probably thousands of brown houses with white trim,” said Haley’s mom, Margie. “For someone to go so far out of their way … they don’t know us. They just did what was right.”
How the stranger found the camera and tracked the Ryckmans down is at the top of the list.
Margie Ryckman posted about the incident on Facebook, hoping someone would know him. She even asked the fourth-graders she teaches at Isla Vista Elementary what they made of it, with aliens and Jesus listed as top suspects.
All the GoPro footage remained intact, including underwater excursions and recordings of Haley and her 11-year-old brother, Ben, jumping on the trampoline in the backyard — the only video that shows the exterior of the home.
“He obviously knew what it was,” Haley said of the camera. “I just can’t believe that he actually returned it.”
The Ryckmans hope sharing their story will help locate the Good Samaritan because, without him, they wouldn’t be able to capture more moments out on the ocean — this time with a buoyant, waterproof case.