Thomas Angler is no stranger to reporting from hostile environments. He’s covered everything from conflict in the Middle East to drug trafficking in Central America. But nothing could have prepared him for his latest assignment: reporting on the ground from one of the world’s most dangerous splash zones.
The first four rows of Surf City’s Water Sports Stunt Show are a wasteland. Wreckage is strewn across the perpetually flooded ground. A sunscreen bottle. A child’s toy. A towel so wet it’s difficult not to see it as some kind of metaphor for the place’s hopelessness.
This is the hellish splash zone in which Angler has embedded himself: the notorious second row. It’s a region that has received some of the most relentless splashing during the water-ski portion of the aquatic stunt show. Let’s put it this way: They call this area “soak central” for a reason.
“The usher gave me a poncho when I first got here,” said Angler. “If you don’t have a poncho in a place like this, you could easily get drenched. I’ve seen it happen to less experienced reporters. All you need is one Jet Ski to do a backflip near the edge of the pool, and suddenly, your clothes are all wet. Totally drenched.”
The first four rows are racked with hundreds of gallons of water on a daily basis. According to Angler, these people gave up hope of drying off a long time ago.
“Getting splashed has become a regular part of these people’s lives,” said Angler. Those who aren’t lucky enough to find a seat in the dry section of the audience are forced to shelter close to the front and hope for the best. But in some ways, their fate is sealed from the moment they sit down on those blue benches. Statistically speaking, 70 percent will not stay dry.
“I met a 12-year-old girl named Lisa in the third row,” said Angler. ”She told me how her parents had managed to flee to the upper rows, where the risk of getting squirted is significantly lower. But she had to stay behind to watch over her younger brother, David. A 9-year-old so traumatized by the horrors of this place, he actually told me he wants to get splashed. Can you imagine?”
One of the most brutal parts of Angler’s job is seeing what happens to kids trapped in a place like this.
“The splash doesn’t discriminate between young and old,” said Angler. “It has no conscience. Most of the people getting sprayed are children. This is what’s happening here and people need to know about it. That’s why I’m here.”
Maybe one day, this place will know peace. Until then, the splashes will continue, the aisles will flow with water, and Angler will be there to report on it. Let’s hope that poncho does its job.