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Goleta Family Tracks Down Treasured GoPro Camera Lost at Sea

A mom strolling the beach finds the camera in a tidepool and returns it — with its priceless contents

The Van Dyk family — Jesse, 7, dad Matt, Shane, 9, mom Tara and Faith, 13 — were all smiles after being recently reunited with their GoPro camera lost at sea months ago.
The Van Dyk family — Jesse, 7, dad Matt, Shane, 9, mom Tara and Faith, 13 — were all smiles after being recently reunited with their GoPro camera lost at sea months ago.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

It was Mother's Day and Matt Van Dyk, wife Tara and their three children, Shane, Jesse and Faith, headed to Haskell's Beach in Goleta.

Shane, 8, wanted to surf, so Matt brought his GoPro camera, a birthday gift from earlier that year, to record all the action. 

Matt stuck the GoPro to the surfboard and Shane went out to catch a wave. 

The day began as expected, just a family playing in the sand and water, living the California Dream. 

But the unpredictable ocean had other plans for the Van Dyk family that day. The first wave took Shane down and flicked the $300 GoPro off the surfboard and into the ocean, swallowed by the crashing waves. 

Matt popped up from the beach and dashed into the ocean to rescue the GoPro, which contained special family moments captured on the memory card. 

"There was a heavy riptide and I kind of knew if I didn't get it now, I'd never find it," he said.

Matt searched the vast sea for nearly an hour. Shane was in tears. The rest of the family was bummed. 

The GoPro, and its priceless contents, was lost forever.

Or was it?

Ever since that fateful day, Shane had been asking his mom to buy his dad another GoPro. Even on Christmas Eve, Shane was on the computer, looking at GoPros, pleading with his mother to buy a new one. Tara wasn't ready to purchase a new one, but on a whim, last Friday, she decided to log on to Santa Barbara Swap on Facebook. 

One of the listings caught her eye. Someone had posted that they found a GoPro in a tidepool on Ellwood Beach. Tara chuckled a bit, but told Matt about it. There's no way, she said to herself.

Ellwood Beach

Two days before Christmas, Sarah Avila-Battle was strolling the beach below the Ellwood Bluffs with her mother and four young children. It was low tide, and her oldest son Nate, 11, wanted to explore the tidepools for treasures. 

While searching the tidepools, Avila-Battle saw a glimmer of silver under the water. At first she thought it was just scales of a fish glistening in the water. 

Shane Van Dyk, 9, holds his father's GoPro, which was found months after it was swept out to sea last May. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

She peered closer. She knew it was something different. She reached in and pulled out a camera. She wondered who it belonged to. A diver? Dirt bike rider? Boater? Surfer?

Avila-Battle took the camera home, along with the rocks and shells they found that day. She showed the find to her husband, who dissembled it, cleaned the case and stuck it in a bag of rice to dry. 

Three days later, she plugged the memory card into a laptop. Nothing. She connected the camera through a USB cord, but still no images appeared. So she went to Santa Barbara Swap on Facebook and posted what she had found. She received four inquiries back, but none matched the description of the GoPro she found — until she heard from Matt.

He described it exactly: the color, type, stand type, case, all of it was a perfect match. 

"I was thrilled to be able to get it home," Avila-Battle said. "I've lost valuable items, and being a mom of four I know how it is to purchase an item I've saved for. It's always the right thing to do to try your best to return a found item."

Avila-Battle said she wanted to show her children the responsible thing to do. 

"I want my children to know the value in this, and I know they'd hope if they lost something special that it would be in the hands of a caring individual who would try to get it home to them," she said. "When the Van Dyk family came to retrieve it, their son's disbelief at seeing it again was all the thanks I needed."

Back Home

Two days after Christmas, the Van Dyk family had their GoPro back. But would it ever work again?

At home, Tara connected the GoPro to the computer and walked away, not feeling very confident that the memory card would still contain any of the cherished family memories.

After a slow load time, she heard wild cheers from her kids coming from the living room. The first image that popped up on the screen was a video of 7-year-old Jesse's school campout. There were also two 17-minute video clips of the camera just thrashing about in the ocean, capturing the device's journey from Haskell's to Ellwood Beach.

For Matt, 30, a Dos Pueblos High School graduate who grew up surfing at Haskell's Beach, the moment was also overwhelming, particularly because of the joy it brought Shane, now 9.

"When it was lost I told him not to worry about it, that it was just a piece of plastic," Matt said. "But this has been on Shane's mind for eight months. What are the chances you'd ever find it?"

Tara said the event reminded her that there are good people in the world.

"It's such a miracle," she said. "This shows that anything is possible."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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