Earlier this week, I saw a dead woman walk out of the surf. That’s what her daughter had feared, at least.
Riding my bike along the seawall, I could see beach patrol lifeguards running toward the water. With floats tucked under their arms, the lifeguards were pointing to a spot in the water off the east side of the 61st Street jetty. Behind me, I could hear sirens.
I walked my bike down to the edge of the water. Beside a yellow beach patrol truck, a teenage girl in a bathing suit knelt down, her forehead pressed against the sand and face buried in her hands. Her body shook with involuntary convulsions from fear. A friend was comforting her, while a lifeguard tried to calm her.
You hear about people drowning from rip currents when you live in a beach town. Experiencing one is something completely different. You can’t help but be emotionally moved.
Other members of the beach patrol began arriving and getting to work — and fast. With minimal conversation, they were coordinating their efforts with a precision reminding me of a highly trained group of border collies herding sheep — working together with an almost invisible sense of what to do at precisely the right moment. And I mean this with the utmost respect. Watching this team in action was remarkable.
Standing on the truck parked near the surf, one lifeguard held up a white object for those in the water to use as a reference point. Those in the water moved toward where they believed the drowning person was last seen. Two lifeguards were pulling a long surfboard-shaped tool behind them.
While family members or friends ran down the jetty, the lifeguards operated with remarkable sense of urgency and calm.
I could see people on the 61st Street pier dropping circular, white life-preservers into the water.
I could not see the lifeguards in the water because of the waves crashing against the footings and rocks.
By now people were lining the beach and seawall.
A lifeguard inside the truck called out to a team member who was comforting the girl. The news was good. The young girl stood up, and, with help from her friend and a lifeguard, walked to the truck on unsteady legs. Friends circled and hugged her.
Walking toward the jetty, I could see the beach patrol team moving toward the west side of the jetty. Two lifeguards in red shorts were wading out of the surf supporting a woman in a black, one-piece bathing suit. After getting to shore, the woman thanked the patrol and walked back to her family.
And as quickly as the beach patrol team went into action, they again faded into the background. And because of them, a young girl went home with her mother.