Remember: one day, this man could save your life.
A few weeks back, L and I went to the beach with some friends of ours. We showed up before the rest of the crowd and thought to ourselves: "Selves, what the hell? Let's go swimming." For me, swimming at the beach is still a bit of a novelty. Spending most of my adult life in Oregon means that I think of ocean water as a source of pain and misery, a place that one only ventures into as a right of passage and proof of one's masculinity. The idea that one might actually derive pleasure from paddling around in the breakers still seems surreal to me.
So, of course, I was thrilled to hop off the sand and into the water. And when L noticed a buoy a little ways off and suggested we swim to it, I was more than game.
I'm not an exceptional swimmer, mind you -- I was on the swim team while growing up, and have many seventh and eigth place ribbons from the myriad competitions I swam in. But still, swimming out to the buoy was a comfortable, easy little swim. After 10 minutes or so of gentle swimming, I was holding on to a buoy warning me that if I were a motorboat, I should be no closer to the Santa Monica Pier than I currently was. Not being a motor boat, I took the opportunity to relax and watch L swim the last few feet to the buoy. And then we rested and reveled in our triumphant swim.
Our celebration was quickly cut short. L: "Why is there a lifeguard swimming towards us?" Me: "What?" L: "Look. Over there. He's like 20 feet away." Me: "What?"
Needless to say, L was right. Lifeguards (two of them, as it turned out) had noticed our distress and been dispatched to rescue us from our plight. We tried to tell them that we were fine, and that we were just having a leisurely swimming outing, but they would have none of it. With no opportunity for rest, we were immediately turned around and led back towards shore. My lifeguard, in fact, was so concerned about my desperate state that he insisted on towing me behind him with his little red buoy (modeled above by Mr. Hasslehoff).
Being rescued for no apparent reason by the lifeguards was strange enough, but then we reached the beach. The beach that was now very conspicuously devoid of swimmers. Oh, there were plenty of people on the beach, but no one -- no one at all -- was in the water. For several hundred feet of beach on either side of us. Which only made us all the more conspicuous as we strode, sheepishly, out of the surf. In front of dozens upon dozens (hundreds?) of silent, judging stares.
After a remarkably friendly chat with my lifeguard (apparently he has friends in the undergrad CS department at UCLA), L and I finally managed to figure out what had happened from our friend I, who had cleverly decided to not complete the buoy swim with us. Apparently, lifeguards from several stations away had been called down to aid in our rescue, meaning that the now-unprotected beach had to be cleared of swimmers. And, apparently, they had considered sending a lifeguard boat out to rescue us, but decided our plight wasn't desperate enough (how should I feel about that? Flattered that they had sufficient faith in our swimming abilities? Or insulted that my life wasn't valuable enough to merit a boat rescue?).
After we'd finally been pulled ashore, we managed to finagle an explanation out of our lifeguards. Apparently, beach rules prevent swimmers from going out more than 200 yards offshore, which we had more than exceeded with our swim out to the 400-yards-distant buoy. Beach rules which, of course, are posted nowhere on the beach.
Perversely, of course, I'm glad that I didn't know the rules -- I would have felt more than a little bit guilty using up so many city resources for knowlingly violating a safety regulation. But now I've been the subject of a bonafide rescue operation and, hell, I didn't know any better! It was awesome.
And, for those of you who are fans of nostalgic, mid-90s song references, you may have realized that I went to Santa Monica and swam out past the breakers (I did not, however, watch the world die).