That Time When I got Caught in a Rip Last Summer

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.

Lifeguarding 2018 Lifeguarding 2018

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.

Hammocks Beach NC State Park
Storm behind the dunes hitting Swansboro.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *