Monday, August 15, 2005

A river in the sea

SEA ISLE CITY -- It was our third day out in the surf, and the waves were noticeably bigger.

It was deceiving at first because the water was pooling in the shallows for a few dozen yards out from the lifeguard stand. But then my dad and I got out farther and started enjoying riding the swells. But then we started feeling the tug. Even when I dove under the ones that had already crashed, I felt myself lifted and tossed around more than usual by the back of the wave.

Riding waves can be exciting, but the moment you start feeling out of control is when it gets scary. It started feeling like we were being tugged out into the ocean. We tried to let the waves push us to shore, but they'd send us a bit forward and then drag us back twice as far.

Eventually, we realized we need to swim hard. And I realized how out of shape I was. I swam and swam, and felt like I was staying in the same place. A lifeguard came out to tell us what we could already feel: It was time to come in. Eventually, I swam hard enough to get to where I could wade in, the water around my waist.

Later, the lifeguard told my dad how he could see from his perch the rip current running like a river out to sea. Only later did I think of those signs that are posted at most beach entrances here -- the ones that tell you how to get out of the current. You're supposed to swim parallel to the shore, either left or right, and then curve in toward the sand and the shallows. We probably could've avoided a few seconds of panic, if I'd just stopped to realize what was happening. But when you're in it all, you just forget.

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