Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Completely Typical Day at the Beach

It is HOT as Hades here at the Gold Coast!  Aproximately 1000 degrees in the shade and 99.9 percent humidity.
            We're all feeling it, and we're all tired of feeling it, so we went to the beach.  We slathered ourselves in nasty white goo (that is, Dr Tabubil and I slathered ourselves and Dad sat still with a "Just what did I ever do?" expression on his face while we slathered him) but I guess we were in the water just long enough for the stuff to wash off and for us to get nicely roasted.
           Dr Tabubil is very red.  She looks like a glass Christmas ornament.  Very… reflective.

It was a strange day at the beach today.
It was a high tide, with the water right up against the dunes. The water was reasonably deep -  not much surf to speak of, but a huge northward rip and a powerful undertow that got stronger as you moved out, so that you couldn't go out very far.  Just bob around in the water and holler a lot. What turned an extremely crowded scene into an anthill was the extreme vigilance -  and attendant chaos -  of the ENTIRE Southport Surf Lifesaving Club ("Home of the Fried Egg!) because Channel 9 was filming a documentary on Australian Life-Saving.  You have never seen such a scrum. 
            Lifeguards were everywhere, scanning the surf from a mobile tower, bounding into the water to deliver timely warnings and friendly advice, or popping up beside you from underneath in their red and yellow hats for more of the same.  To the south of us, the club zodiac and waverunner were making dramatic dashes out to sea over the heaving surf for the benefit of the cameras - and coming back in to do it over and dramatically over again.

Dr Tabubil was disdainful.  "This isn't a documentary!  This is reality TV!  They're never like this just for us regular drowning swimmers!"
            To their credit, they had picked a great day for it; the rip and the undertow were awful.  And we had the privelege of observing a dramatic staged rescue – our lifeguards at their best and brightest, complete with waterproof video cameras out in the middle of the action.
            First, one of the women bobbing on her floatie cushion began to bounce and point, then swam swiftly out beyond the surf line.  One of the men posing in his speedos froze theatrically and  threw himself down the dunes into the water, flinging his sunglasses into the sand as he went past.  Another quartet of bronzed gods, trailed by a cameraman with a waterproof camera, headed out behind him.  Two more lifeguards passed us with a floating stretcher.  Then a kayak went by in a tangle of thudding feet.  The zodiac arrived in an impressive shower of spray and everyone formed up in a floating huddle out beyond the break – presumably sorting out camera angles - and soon the Rescue Helicopter came low and fast and took up station thirty feet above the action.

It was pretty neat stuff.  We waited eagerly for someone to plummet out of the helicopter, but it held steady above the water, and eventually the cavalcade paddled back to shore and we lost interest and went back into the water. 
            Except that it turned out to have been a real rescue.  Salty and sandy and crimson where our sunblock had washed off, we lay about drying ourselves off on our towels, and we noticed a very very tired swimmer being helped by the photogenic gaggle toward the first-aid station.
            We recognized him. Because of the northward rip, we had kept our own swimming close in to the shore, as near to the southern flag as possible (you get yanked northward pretty fast in one or two waves, and on a day like that, the whole "swimming" process is a fight to stay as south as possible.)  A big, burly man with a thick black beard had been swimming next to us – and it was this same man who had been hauled out under the eyes of the cameras – far out beyond the breakers and way north of the flags. 
            He was absolutely done in.  He could barely stand. He'd tried to fight the water. The first lesson you learn as a kid on the beach is that you - don't – do - that! You don't fight! You let the water carry you, you stay on top of it and you signal like mad.  Because the guards are there for you-  even if you aren't swimming on a day that'll get you ten lifeguards and a helicopter, there will be someone there watching!
            And if there isn't, you stay on top of the water and you ride the rip out and eventually, you'll pass out of it and can swim back to shore.  Don't fight the water- save your strength for that swim back in.

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