Unfazed by Hurricane Dorian, people flock to Florida's beaches

Surfer relives harrowing ordeal trying to catch waves during Hurricane Floyd

By Brittany Muller - Reporter, Lauren Verno - Consumer investigative reporter, Garrett Pelican - Digital executive producer

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - For most people, Hurricane Dorian’s highly anticipated arrival offshore of Jacksonville was a sign to stay inside until the storm passed. But for some, it was a chance to jump in the water and take advantage of the extraordinary surf.

The threat of the hurricane looming 135 miles in the distance did not stop three people from hitting the beach Wednesday morning and taking a dip in the surf near the Jacksonville Beach Pier. The trio was getting out of the water by the time lifeguards showed up.

“We reminded them that the beach was closed,” Capt. Rob Emahiser with Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue told News4Jax afterward. “There’s no swimming, no one in the water, so a good ending.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Tracking Hurricane Dorian

Authorities have closed beaches across Northeast Florida, from Jacksonville Beach to Fernandina Beach to the north, because of the potential for storm surge, large waves and a dangerous rip current. Mounds of sand have been piled up near the dunes and beach accesses to keep the tide at bay.

Despite repeated warnings to stay off the sand and out of the water, a steady stream of people flocked to the beaches to scope out what Dorian might have in store for our coastal communities.

“It’s completely closed,” Emahiser said. “Please, please heed the warning.”

RESOURCES: Interactive tracking map | Hurricane survival guide | Know your zone

In nearby Neptune Beach, a lifeguard is credited with saving a woman who was standing on shore when the current swept her off her feet and pulled her into the surf. The close call led the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to issue yet another warning on social media.

Not everyone is doing the best job of listening, though. Mark, a Beaches resident who’s no stranger to hurricanes, went out to watch the weather roll in about 9 a.m. But even he wouldn’t risk going into the water, like some of the beachgoers he noticed tempting fate in the surf.

“One of those guys was in the water with his phone trying to catch the waves,” he told News4Jax. “It's just stupid. You've got to respect the water. The waves we have out here, the rip currents, it'll take you in a heartbeat. You won't even realize it until it's over, and then it's too late.”

The scene was similar in Amelia Island. Since dawn broke Wednesday, a News4Jax crew watched as beachgoers showed up to check out the conditions on the barrier island north of Jacksonville.

Among them was Jimmy, a Fernandina Beach resident who decided to catch some waves as Hurricane Floyd swept through in 1999. He almost paid for that daring feat with his life. Even though two decades have ticked by since then, he said it’s a mistake he’ll never make again.

“I went out and my leash broke, and I couldn’t get back in,” he recalled. “I almost drowned. It took me about 30 minutes to get back in. I’ll never do that (again). I wouldn’t recommend going out in any waves like this. It’s not worth it.”

He managed to stay calm long enough for the current to bring him back to shore. But the harrowing experience taught him a valuable lesson that he wants to pass along to would-be daredevils.

“Don’t do it,” he said. “I don’t care how strong you are, how young you are, you can’t take that. You’re not going to make it, I’m just being honest.”

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