The Atlantic Ocean was dumping an uncommon barrage of 8-foot, near-freezing bombs along the beaches of Northern New Jersey on March 4, 2002. That same day, 28-year-old Daniel Fraunhofer of Clifton, NJ, decided to cut work short and head to Spring Lake, just north of Manasquan, and brave the conditions alone on his 9’6″. What exactly happened after that, nobody is certain. What we do know is it was the last day Daniel would ever surf — and the first day of a ridiculous controversy.With no real initial investigation, Danny’s friends and family opted to quietly put him to rest, assuming that he suffered a blow to the head in the risky conditions. Now, over a year after the tragedy, Fraunhofer’s widow and her lawyer, Gerald Clark, claim that a strike to the noggin was not what killed Daniel, but the fact that his leash had snapped sometime during his session, leaving him with no option other than swimming. Of course, their claims come with big dollar signs attached and they are gearing up to sue the company that manufactured Daniel’s leash, Stay Covered, and the surf shop that sold it to him, Eastern Lines in Belmar, NJ.

“We have been conducting an intensive investigation including consulting with top-notch experts,” Gerald Clark says. “We have concluded Danny drowned because his leash broke, his surfboard washed into shore and he was left stranded with nothing to float onto.”

Paul Mulshine of The Star Ledger in Newark, NJ, wrote a July 10 article on the controversy surrounding Danny’s death and says Clark is ignoring the simple dynamics of surfing. “Nothing to float on?” Mulshine writes. “Human beings float … the typical surfer finds it simple to body-surf to shore after losing his board.”

And Mulshine isn’t the only one shaking his head over this lawsuit. In fact, Pat O’Neill, the son of legendary wetsuit innovator Jack O’Neill and the man credited as the innovator of the surf leash, feels that Fraunhofer’s widow and her lawyer are grossly missing the point.

“The thing is kinda like ski-stops, not a life preserver,” Pat says. “It’s more dangerous getting drug over the falls and through the duration of the wave than loosing your board all together and having to swim. Besides, if the guy didn’t have enough strength to swim on his own out there he shouldn’t have been surfing that day “

“If this suit succeeds, Fraunhofer’s widow and her lawyer could profit from [Daniel’s] mistakes,” Mulshine says. “It’s impossible to build a leash that will never break, just as it’s impossible to build a plane that will never crash.” Andrew Lewis

Stay Covered and Eastern Lines were not able to comment on this issue. For Paul Mulshine’s full article from The Star Ledger, log on to: http://www.starledger.com