Summer, And Once Again…Death

Drowning sucks

Over 3,600 of us drown every year in America. Ten people per day.

Drowning is in the top five for deaths between the ages of five and fourteen.

Ditto between the ages of 48 and 85.

Spring started so positively at Long Beach for us this year. It was unusually cool, yes, but the beach reconstruction was cleared for the most part. We did lose an Oystercatcher nest at the West end but further East, the oystercatchers were doing well:

Oystercatcher chicks DSC_2001.jpg

Ospreys were harvesting protein, as they will. It is good to see them so much advanced in species recovery. I see them hauling freight toward shore all day long:

osprey in spring DSC_2953.jpg

I, for the very first time, saw swans landing off our Long Beach shore:


DSC_2267.jpgThe edge of eternity

I often refer to the ocean shore as the edge of eternity. It’s the feeling I get, perhaps because of something inside me, maybe you too, that recognizes our beginnings at the sea’s edge.

But then on the cusp of summer, the sea had literally become the edge of eternity.

As you know a young man, a very young man, died off Edwards Blvd, in the springtime of his life. His body was recovered by the Coast Guard this Sunday afternoon, about 12:30 pm. At least ten-year-old, Ramell McRae’s mom will have his remains back from the sea:

But that same Sunday night, about 2:00 am yet another young man was lost to eternity. It is said that alcohol may have been a factor, but three young men were swimming in the darkness off Long Beach Blvd.

The sea became rough…once again.

And a life was lost…once again.

This time the loss was Neil Gibbons, a visitor from Ireland, a mere 30…in the summer of life.


The incongruity of summer fun and a police boat search for a body

Now, I said much about the rules of the beach in my previous post, especially the one that pertained so relevantly to the ten-year-old who died. The one that said, no swimming when lifeguards are not on duty.

There’s a bit more to be said

Our Long Beach Lifeguards take their jobs very seriously. Even when off duty they respond, as they did when young Ramell was lost to the sea.

NY Post.jpg

Long Beach lifeguards screen surf for missing youth. Photo, NY Post

A wise and experienced lifeguard

I spoke with a Long Beach man who has been a lifeguard for about half a century. He said that in all those years there was only one loss of life while lifeguards were on duty. It was in 2005.

I researched that drowning:

The 16-year-old male was just three years in the U.S. from Dubai. He was in waist-deep but couldn’t swim. He was pulled by the swift current into the deeper surf.

His 21-year-old brother tried to save him, even had his hands on him, but the sea pulled the lad from his brother’s arms. It was another fatal sibling separation.

The nearby lifeguards tried to rescue the lad but he was pulled too swiftly out and down. I know they will remember that the rest of their lives. I know too, the surviving brother will feel his slipping grasp the rest of his life:   

The lifeguard told me that does happen, riptides can pull you out and down and that the best way to deal with a riptide is…”just don’t get caught in one.”

He said the well-meaning advice of swimming parallel to the beach makes it sound so easy, but it’s not.

He said it is the best thing to do but, you have to be a very strong swimmer, maybe a lifeguard, to deal with it. So it’s best not to get caught in a riptide at all he said, and never swim when there are no lifeguards on duty.

People are often foolish

Lifeguards at Long Beach, NY go off duty at 6:00 pm. But a Beach Patrol stays on between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm to ensure that people do stay out of the water. They get chased out after six, but often go back in. Lifeguards cannot issue summonses I was told. It seems to me that if someone refuses to leave the surf, or goes back in after being ordered out, he should get a summons.

And that policy should be posted prominently. It might save a life.

The lifeguard told me about an incident about ten years ago at Long Beach Blvd. It was nearing 6:00 pm and as they are required to do, the lifeguards told the man he had to get out of the water as they were going off duty at 6:00 pm. The man, in his late twenties, complained and resisted saying he would just go back in after they left.

But he did get out of the water.

And they left.

He drowned at 6:11 pm.

The sea is the wild

The sea is the edge of civilization. People play, sun themselves, wade, swim, splash, surf and boogie board. There’s this summery feeling of ease and relaxation. But not far offshore…you are in the wild. And in minutes you can be struggling and gasping for precious air and survival.

I confess, twenty years ago I used to swim before work, before the lifeguards came on duty. I’d swim parallel to the shore. One morning either by a current I hadn’t realized, or I was swimming off course, but I drifted so far out and I was so tired I had a really bad time getting back in.

Again and again, I’d hope I reached a point where I could stand, but I couldn’t. When I finally did make it to that precious shore, sacred life, a wave slapped me in the back like a kick in the butt. I never swam in the sea without a lifeguard again.

Swim only between the red and green flags

The sea can lift your feet from under you, pull you out and down. Ours, like many shores has severe drop-offs, holes that one can find oneself in. Your touching ground, feet bobbing off the ocean floor…then the seabed is gone and you’re drifting out.

That did happen to a relative of ours who was visiting. She was in the surf, on firm ground, then she was not. She had drifted into a hole. If it were not for a surfer nearby, it could have been very bad.

Lifeguards take their jobs very seriously

I see lifeguards in training often. This spring, as in every season, I saw them doing physical training, push-ups, running in the sand to build their strength and stamina.  Sometimes they run in the hard-packed sand, sometimes in soft.

Yes, they take their jobs seriously but they enjoy it too. I can see it in their performance, in their faces. They do their runs with enthusiasm…and with smiles. A physical training countenance I wasn’t familiar with in the Corps, at Parris Island:

crab walks DSC_1014.jpg





In lifeguard preparedness…there is one serious flaw

Our Long Beach lifeguards are extremely prepared for any sand and sea emergency that arises.

But there is only one flaw in their ability to fully protect us. They can’t really force us to swim only when they are present!

Only we can do that.

Enjoy our beach, yours too.

But come home safely, for another summer with those you love.

Be well,



4 replies »

  1. I am new to your blog. I was so touched by your writing of this very sad week for so many. You were right on the mark about our ocean and people. God bless the souls of Ramell and Neil.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s