(June 13, 2014) While the lifeguards are alertly scanning their area and the water in front of them for signs of danger, trouble is sometimes festering behind their stands this time of year.
It’s what some refer to as the “Class of 2014.” It’s a tradition thousands of graduates participate in each year; the trek to Ocean City to enjoy their freedom. Full of confidence, and feeling immune to any dangers, they sometimes allow the excitement of the atmosphere to impede their judgment enough to get them into trouble.
When we get a warm sunny day, the water temperatures are inviting. If you add a town full of celebrating graduates to the mix, the lifeguards have their work cut out for them. Unfortunately, we also see a sharp rise in vandalism to our lifeguard stands each night during this time of the season (the stand is an important piece of safety equipment). If you see any suspicious activity on the beach or someone tampering with a stand, please call the Police and help us be prepared for guarding your beach the next day.
At no other time of year do we see more teenagers chase each other down the beach and into the ocean only to end up diving into shallow water. The more experienced among them dive shallow and usually do not suffer any consequences of this risky behavior. The less fortunate will spend the rest of their vacation trying to explain the scabs on their forehead and nose.
The really unfortunate will not be able to run or dive, ever again. While beach patrol members respond to spinal injuries every year, none are more tragic than those that occur when young people are injured from diving into shallow water. It is not their age so much, but the fact that these injuries are so preventable that makes them particularly tragic.
Beach patrol “Rule No. 1” is: “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand.” Rule N. 2 is: “Check the water depth with your feet, not your head.” Our ocean water is not as clear as pool water, and we don’t have the depth printed along the edge in big black numbers like it is at the local swim club. An additional practice that we encourage for everyone who visits our beaches is to check in with the nearest Surf Rescue Technician (lifeguard) and ask about the water conditions for that beach on that day. The SRT will inform you of current conditions in your area of the beach, including signs of inclement weather, rip currents and dangerous shore break.
While lifeguards try to stop accidents before they happen, even whistle blasts sometimes don’t catch the attention of those who are horsing around and chasing each other. Surf rescue technicians are often left cringing in their stands, hoping that those who just dove into the foot-deep water will pop up unscathed. This is usually followed by what we call an impromptu beach safety presentation as the closest lifeguard explains the dangers of their actions.
While 40 percent of spinal injuries occurring in the surf are caused by people diving into shallow water, the majority result from body surfers and body boarders riding waves that are breaking too close to shore. We encourage people to keep their arms stretched out in front of them when body surfing, and to avoid riding waves that are breaking close to the sandbar or beach. We hope that everyone who visits our beach will enjoy many happy, healthy returns.
The Ocean City Beach Patrol has worked with trauma doctors to develop a specialized technique to manage suspected head, neck and back injuries. Although every surf rescue technician is trained and skilled in the use of these techniques, it is far better for our beach patrons to have injuries prevented rather than treated. Taking responsibility for your own actions and spreading the caution about spinal cord injuries is the greatest form of prevention we have.
Many people just do not realize that wet sand is just as un-yielding as concrete. Most people would never think of attempting a flip in the middle of a parking lot for fear of striking the ground. However, many of these same individuals will attempt these aerial maneuvers on the beach or into a few inches of ocean water, with the all to often result, of witnessing our spinal injury management technique first hand. Please, use your head to protect your spine and think before diving or riding breaking waves into the beach. Have fun, but remain safe.