@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
Surfers have a love/hate relationship with lifeguards. In some ways, surfers highly respect the guardians of the ocean, as many lifeguards are surfers themselves. The lifeguards at beaches like Waimea Bay in Hawaii are genuine heroes, as brave as any one, charging into deadly waters to help a distressed surfer. But no surfer is without some contempt for lifeguards too. Because most beaches have designated surf areas, outside of flags, it’s not uncommon to surf a spot that borders the swimmers area, only to have lifeguards whistle and yell at you, even if there isn’t a swimmer anywhere near.
To minimize risk, at some beaches, lifeguards are quick to pull people out of the water. Which is infuriating to people who are great swimmers and can handle conditions that say, a child or someone who is not in shape, could not.
The beach is a place we go to feel free. The ocean itself, a beacon of limitless. For it’s in the water you can feel like flying. I myself was one time saved by a lifeguard when I didn’t need to be. When I was young, I swam far out and lifeguards rushed out to bring me back in. Even though I was fine. As soon as they brought me to shore, I jumped right back in.
There was one time I did try to flag lifeguards, as I got dragged off into sea by strong currents. They couldn’t see me and I came very close to drowning (this, however, was 100% my fault).
Recently, I took a day off and went to Long Beach, as New York is experiencing extremely high temperatures and it’s not good for me to be stuck in my apartment for many days in a row. There has been an increase in shark sightings and attacks in the Northeast. This is because the water warmed up and there is a ton of fish activity… which leads to an increase of sharks, dolphins and whales. Their presence isn’t a bad thing.
Now, if a shark is seen, I do think it is a good call to get everyone out of the water, especially if the alpha predator is in shallow water. However, the reality is sharks are always out there. If you see them or not, the truth is, shark attacks on humans is actually crazy rare in comparison to how often we are right next to each other in the ocean.
The lifeguards closed all the beaches in Long Beach due to a shark sighting at a different beach, hours beforehand. This is ridiculous. Because a shark seen two hours ago could be in the middle of the ocean now. Put up a flag that says there was a shark sighting and let people make their own decisions, take their own risks.
I started going into the water when a young, female lifeguard told me I couldn’t go in further as the ocean was off limits due to marine life activity. Mind you, I had been surfing that morning, by myself, with fish jumping all around me.
“Marine life in the ocean?” I said, “crazy! There are also clouds in the sky!”
She did not appreciate my demeaning joke. It’s over 90 degrees and looking at an ocean I can’t go in is a cock tease. I begin to walk away and I decide, “ah fuck it, I’m going to run and jump in quick.” So I run towards the water, almost waist high and jump in. The lifeguards start blowing their whistles and run over. I get a few splashes in before I get out.
“What did you do that for? We just told you the water is closed.”
“I just needed to cool off.”
“But there are sharks out there.”
“There’s always sharks. I see them when I’m surfing. I wave at them.”
At this point they just looked at me like I was crazy.
“You have a nice day,” he said, insincerely, through his teeth.
I smiled a mischievous grin back at him. Had I been a drink or two closer to drunk, I probably would have given him a good ol’ fashioned Nazi salute and called him a fascist. I know he’s just doing his job, but the fact of the matter is, if they’re not going to do their jobs, just patrol the beach, they might as well put up a sign and not charge people to come to the beach. Additionally, I treat a lot of rules like guidelines– if I think they are stupid, I probably simply won’t follow them. I do not live my life in fear of sharks. If I ever get bit by one, I will hold myself responsible for taking the risk of being in the ocean. I’ve surfed in many places, and been to beaches around the country and world. This is an overreaction to sharks (partly a result of the media hype).
Years ago I was surfing in Florida and a bull shark swam at me and right under my board. My dad was right next to me. We were the only surfers out of dozens who got out of the water. We told the lifeguard about the sharks. He said, “it’s the ocean, there are always sharks out there.” Everyone on the beach could see the sharks. It did discourage a lot of people going in (specifically parents not letting kids in which is a good call cause they’re more likely to get attacked being small). It didn’t stop the surfers. My dad and I waited about 20-30 minutes till we didn’t see sharks anymore to go back in. And then we surfed for quite some time after that.
I do not like people telling me what I can or cannot do. Even if I’m at risk of danger. I will not let fear dictate my life. If I’m in the water and I see a shark, I will most likely get out and I will be scared. But I’m more likely to get stabbed in NYC just walking around than ever being in the ocean. And I still go to the city all the time.
“Jaws” is one of my favorite movies, but I’m sick of these Quint wannabes. The sound of an unnecessary whistle from a lifeguard micromanaging me is equivalent to nails on a chalkboard. More and more, it seems authority and media wants to scare you into never leaving the house, and just sitting at home, watching your TV. That’s fine with me if that’s what you want to do. More people afraid to leave their house means less crowded beaches and parks for me. If you live life afraid that something will happen to you, then nothing will happen to you, and you will have been a boring waste of time.