Sara and I were riding the horses down the beach this evening, we passed a family and I noticed several young people pretty far out and they were in the sandy foamy water that indicates a rip tide.
I said to Sara “lets wait here a bit, those kids are pretty far out”. Nothing happened at first but I was looking at the parents and then the kids and then the parents with a concerned look on my face. Then one parent went into the water as the group of kids got further out by the second. Then another parent, then another heavy set (fat) guy went up to the water but didn’t go in.
Things started happening pretty fast then and I told Sara that I was going to go help. She said “are you a strong swimmer?” I said yes emptied my pockets and ran into the water with my jeans on.
I got out to where they were in about two or three minutes and the kid I was supposed to help was there waiting for me like someone had pre organized who was going to take care of who.
As I swam up to him he was treading water, he was pretty excited, I said to him in a calm voice “tranquilo, tranquilo” and took hold of his left hand with my right hand and tried to touch the bottom but couldn‘t.
He relaxed like I asked him to and I started to do a kind of sidestroke toward the shore with him doing a one handed dog paddle. It wasn’t long and I realized we weren’t going anywhere so I started to swim to the side toward clear water. After about 4 minutes I was stating to get tired, I tried to touch bottom but I couldn’t. I swam for a little longer and tried to touch again, this time I could but the water was almost up to my neck and after a few seconds of standing and resting the current moved me to where I couldn’t touch anymore.
It took another few minutes to get to where I could touch again and I was very tired by then. I was still to deep to be able to make progress toward the shore so I had to swim more. By the time I got into shallow water I was asking the men who were standing on the shore to come take the kid. I walked up to the edge of the sand and sat on the shore totally exhausted. All I could do for the next five minutes is sit there breathing heavily and trying to get enough energy to make my legs work.
Finally I had enough strength to walk and went up to Sara who was trying to keep the horses under control. One of the fathers came up and asked if I wanted something to drink, we went over to where they were and he poured me a glass of Tequila.
Everybody was tired; one of the mothers who went in and got a kid was very exhausted like I was. Everyone was really shaken, some mothers and children were crying, everyone was well aware that we were all very lucky to have gotten everyone out of the water without a death.
Sara went over to put her hands on one little girl who was especially shaken and looked like she might go into a mild shock or something to help calm her down.
After about 20 minutes or so I finally had enough strength to get the horses ready, shake hands with all the fathers and ride off, it took me about 4 hours to get back to full strength.
I thought about what had just occurred over the next few hours, and I have these thoughts.
When I saw that there was a possibility that the kids were in trouble I should have started to get ready to help right then instead of waiting until I had made the decision to go into the water.
I should have gotten my swimming trunks out of the saddle bags and put them on, going into a rough ocean with my jeans on was not smart, it took a lot of extra energy. If I didn’t have swimming trunks then I should have gone in naked, anything would have been better than Jeans.
It would have been smart to be more aware of how far the people are out and how wide the rip tide is. If you can’t see some clear water within 50 yards or so to the side of the rip tide then it is going to take a lot more energy to do the rescue.
I have always heard that you are supposed to swim to the side to get out of the rip tide before you try to come in. I could be wrong about this but it didn’t seem that some of the others were as exhausted as I was and I think they came straight in, I am assuming that they got to shallow ground faster than I did. Anyway take that with a grain of salt.
When Sara asked me if I was a strong swimmer she was asking from a place of experience, I had no idea that it was going to take the amount of energy that it did. I am in some shape but I haven’t been doing much physical work around the ranch lately, just working on computer and smoking about two packs a day of short non filtered cigarettes.
If you are not in shape, if you are not a strong swimmer then best think about what you are about to do. I was so exhausted by the time I got in that if the person I was rescuing had been an adult, or if they had been more panicked I honestly don’t think I would have made it back to shore, I was that tired. So be careful as you could just as well end up in as much trouble as the people you are trying to rescue.
Because you are not in shape does not mean you can't help. Go into the water as far as you can and still be safe, when the rescueres are coming in go help them by taking the person being rescued off their hands as it is most probable that they are very tired.
You could also go for help, better to go before someone is dragged up on shore than to wait until they are.
Also, if someone is giving heart and/or lung CPR offer to help or to do one while they do the other as doing CPR can be quite exhausting itself. I can't even imagining my trying to find the energy to do CPR after a rescue.
I have also heard that you should float if you are to tired, I was prepared to do that but I don’t know how well that would have gone over with the kid and I don’t know how I would have translated that to him.
When you are out in rough water, not making progress in your attempts to go ashore and tired it is a different world, all the theory you ever hear is almost worthless, its damn hard to float when you are already tired. All you want to do is touch the bottom for a bit or get to shore.
It seems that trying to see if you can touch the bottom takes more energy, because if you can't touch you have to get going again. It seems to me it would have been better for me to just keep swimming until I was fairly certain I could touch the bottom.
It seems that once you decide to go help someone you want to get there in a hurry, which makes sense. When you do get there the person will probably be pretty exicited as well. It seems that the next thing to do is to get them ashore as quickly as possible but that is a mistake as I see it now.
If you get to the person and they have not taken in to much water you have lots of time to get them ashore, and there is no need to hurry like I did unless their lungs are full of water. Best to relax, try to float, calm the person down, catch your breath yourself and then make you way to shore at a pace that will not exhaust you to where you can't swim.
If you are approaching someone who is panicking in the water stay away from them, talk to them to see if you can calm them down before you approach them or they may take you down with them. One other option is to try to knock them out so you can try to get them ashore, but throwing a knockout punch when you are tired and can’t touch the bottom is not an easy thing to do and quite risky if you don’t succeed in knocking them out.
What I could have done (thinking in retrospect) was to take one of the horse’s bridals with me so if I was approaching a panicking person I could throw the rope to them and keep them away from me.
It would be easier to swim as I could put my arm through one of the holes in the harness and let it go up around my shoulder. Let the person I was resquing hold onto the rope and then have both hands free to swim with.
One last thing is, this kid I rescued was really one of the first ones to recover from the event, I think he probably would have made it into shore on his own somehow as he had the ability to calm down. If I had a similar rescue again I think I would have had him hold onto my shoulders or my swimming trunks so I could swim with both hands and make better/faster progress.
So there is my first real rescue, I am thankful that I am alive and I am thankful that everyone made it out ok. I hope the information I have shared will help you if you are ever in a similar situation.