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Arts writer, critic and Trivial Pursuit editor.

The Young Man and the Sea Sponge

Original sketches by Stephen Hillenburg

Darryn King | Longreads | August 2018 | 13 minutes (3,214 words)

In January 2012, Eric Bettanin, an Australian Army officer, took his brother-in-law’s Jet Ski out for a spin off the coast of Victoria. About 10 minutes in, the engine failed. As night fell, he drifted away from the beach and out of sight of family and friends. He spent the night bobbing around in the Southern Ocean, battered by large waves and howling winds.

Fortunately, Bettanin was wearing a pair of bright yellow SpongeBob SquarePants board shorts. He had picked them up for five Australian dollars, thinking they would get some laughs over the Christmas holidays with the family. As temperatures dropped, he took the shorts off and wrapped them around his head.

The next morning, one of the search boats fruitlessly trying to locate Bettanin was on its way back to shore. They had all but given hope when they spotted it — a telltale speck of SpongeBob yellow on the ocean.

That’s what the internet said anyway. If the headlines that week were slightly overblown, they were in keeping with the upbeat and outlandish spirit of the Nickelodeon cartoon. “SpongeBob SquarePants saved my life.” “SpongeBob Saves.” “SpongeBob SavePants.” Read more…