JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – The drowning at Huguenot Park is a sad reminder of the dangers of rip currents, which were especially strong over the weekend.
Meanwhile, in Jacksonville Beach, lifeguards pulled nearly four dozen people out of the water and warned more than 1,200 others.
Capt. Rob Emahiser is a longtime lifeguard there. On Monday, he took News4Jax out just south of the pier in conditions that were much better than they were over the weekend.
Still, we got into a small rip current that was pulling us away from shore. The Sky 4 drone gave us a bird’s-eye view.
“The waves like we had yesterday are going to be rough enough to roll you over and get you disoriented,” Emahiser said as we were waded offshore. “And get more opportunities for you to swallow water and be nervous.”
We were in a deep spot, then shallow and then deep again. That’s because of a sandbar. These give a false sense of safety and can be swept away under our feet very quickly.
Our swimming and floating skills were put to the test: The first thing to do if you’re caught in a rip current is signal for help, but the key is to not panic.
“When swimmers panic, they extend a lot of energy quickly and get nervous,” Emahiser said. “I don’t remember that they can rest and float and wait for help to arrive.”
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If you can, swim parallel to the shore to get out of the rip current and then diagonally toward the beach, ducking under the bigger waves.
(This timelapse video from Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue shows a rip current. Notice the break in the waves -- a strong undertow that can pull swimmers away from the beach quickly.)
We made it back safely, but lifeguards in Jacksonville Beach had to pull in 44 people from the water this weekend. They whistled and warned another 1,200.
Among the rescues was a dramatic save Saturday night after guards left the beach.
Lt. Max Ervanian happened to be doing paperwork at the guard station when someone on the beach called 911 about a distressed swimmer about 250 yards offshore.
“Oh, my God. He’s alive!” yelled Eva Grayzel, who was at the beach at the time, recording the rescue. “Save, save! Oh, my God. That was amazing.”
“If I was not at the lifeguard station at the time of the 911 call and I was responding from somewhere else, we could’ve seen a completely different outcome,” Ervanian told News4Jax.
He has these takeaways: swim with a buddy, only swim near guards and when they’re on duty, and stay out of the water when conditions are rough.
While conditions are forecasted to be slightly calmer this week, there are still rip currents and dangers. Lifeguards said they are preparing for one of their busiest weekends of the year -- Memorial Day.