Last summer I indulged myself with yet another state park lifeguarding job where I got to run and swim at a beautiful beach every day. Some of the NC locals might know that last summer (2018) was pretty rough for the waters between Morehead and Wilmington. Actually a lot of the East Coast got its butt kicked by an angry ocean for about six weeks straight. There were 13 fatalities within 50 miles of where I was guarding during this period of time (16 total for NC).
I would begin my day at Hammock’s Beach State Park with some PT and part of this was a ten minute ocean swim. I would head out into the waves with my lifeguard buoy and start the timer on my watch and go until ten minutes was up. Sometimes it was like swimming in a washing machine, sometimes as flat as a lake.
I guess I got kind of cocky about it because there was one day during those weeks when even though I knew it was pretty rough I decided to go out anyway. It isn’t like I can sink with my buoy but I might not be able to get back in – hell I might end up miles off shore singing chipper campfire songs to keep my spirits up. “Tom Dooley” comes to mind.
So even though I was alone and no one knew I was going in, I decided to get my swim in.
I head out – get about 30 yards offshore and set my timer, put my head down and start heading north. As I am going I see the ranger’s truck go by – it’s about toy size from my vantage point. I keep going. After a minute a huge wave startles me – I think to myself – damn that was a big one. And I look up and “Oh Shi-dooby” The truck I saw before is now smaller than my thumbnail. “Whoa…” I think to myself. I immediately cancel my PT swim and turn right at shore to get back in. I start going for it pretty hard. After a while I can tell I am not getting any closer – the ocean is pulling me out at least as fast as I am trying to swim back in. Duh…I am in a rip current. It is a little alarming, and I have guarded on the ocean for five seasons, but when you get yourself in a rip current – sometimes even the lifeguard takes a New York minute to remember what to do. So I head to my left, and still make no progress. Then I get smart and stop fighting the long-shore current and the rip and head with the current along the shore and towards to shore at an angle. I decide I’d better mean it and so I go for it for several minutes – less than five probably. Eventually I got back to where I could touch and I was glad I’d made it. We ran red flags that day. Whole episode only took just under ten minutes – it can happen fast!
From that point on I always let someone know before I went in on a rough day. It was a memorable experience. Keep calm and head with the current, at an angle towards shore. Don’t panic.