Shore Break Leads To Busy Week For OC Beach Patrol

Shore Break Leads To Busy Week For OC Beach Patrol

OCEAN CITY — An unidentified teenage girl suffered serious back and neck injuries on Tuesday at 100th Street after diving over a shore break wave into shallow water, illustrating again the importance of safety when swimming in the unpredictable ocean.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a teenage girl and her friend were swimming in the ocean when each attempted to dive over an incoming wave and struck their heads on the ocean bottom in shallow water. According to Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin, one of the girls reportedly said, “I think I almost broke my neck” before looking over and seeing her friend floating face down in the water.
The victim was brought to the beach and treated with care because of concern over a serious neck or back injury. She was carefully taken to Northside Park and then transported to PRMC via Maryland State Police helicopter. The extent of her injuries and her condition are unknown.
OCBP Lieutenant Ward Kovacs on Tuesday confirmed the incident was related in part to the sudden appearance this week of a heavy shore break. The heavy wave action close to shore coincided with high tides in the middle of the afternoon at times when the beach is most crowded, resulting in a spike in the number of rescues and injuries. Kovacs said there were 12 injuries of varying severity reported on Monday and several more on Tuesday.
“We have seen a pretty dramatic increase in calls for emergency medical services to respond to different kinds of joint injuries,” Kovacs said Tuesday. “We have over the last several days seen quite a bit of shore break. What happens with shore break is either people will try and ride the wave and ride it right into shallow water or into the sand and the impact causes the injury. The other thing with shore break is people will try and sometimes dive over the incoming wave and since the water is so shallow, they will strike their head on the ocean floor.”
Kovacs said Tuesday’s incident involving the teenage girl appeared to be the result of the latter. While the heavy shore break condition likely contributed to the incident on Tuesday, Arbin said a similar situation can occur in any ocean conditions. He pointed out the not so subtle difference between a shore break injury and a shallow dive injury.
“In this particular case, the victim attempted to dive over a wave and hit her head on the bottom in shallow water,” he said. “I think this was more a case of a shallow dive injury than a shore break injury and shallow dive injuries can occur in any surf conditions or even in the bay or a lake or a pool.”
Arbin said one of the beach patrol’s mantras is “Feet First, First Time,” advising swimmers to jump in feet first initially to safely gage the depth of the water, whether it’s in the ocean, the bay or a pool. He said it is not uncommon to have shallow dive injuries even on the calmest of days in the ocean because swimmers don’t know the depth of the water when the dive head first.
“One of the saddest stories I ever remember is when a vacationing family just arriving in Ocean City dropped two anxious boys off at the beach while they went to find their place to stay,” he said. “The boys were so excited they just dropped their towels and ran and dove into the ocean head first and one of the kids ended up getting paralyzed for life. Those are things that are so preventable, but can change a person’s life immediately.”
In the wake of the spike in injuries related to shore break and shallow diving this week, the beach patrol began proactively educating those on the beach about potential dangerous conditions. The guards on the stands typically hold brief safety lessons when they come on duty each morning for anyone who cares to listen, but the dangerous conditions this week had them stepping up the education efforts.
“The guards have been pulling people together for impromptu education attempts, or EDUs, this week,” said Kovacs. “What they will do is blow their whistles and use their flags to get people to their chairs and talk about the conditions of the day, whether it be rip currents or shore break like we have now. They will even sometimes get a boogie board and demonstrate how to properly ride with your head below the end of the boogie board.”
While the beach patrol made a number of rescues and emergency medical responses this week, the number of reported incidents this summer is down significantly, according to Arbin. A combination of relatively calm surf, cool ocean temperatures to a large degree and the associated lack of rip currents have conspired to cause a drop in the number of rescues and other interactions. Not coincidentally, the number of reported incidents when the guards go off duty at the end of each day has also dropped this year. Nonetheless, ocean conditions change quickly and Arbin and the patrol continue to advise and educate swimmers about numerous safety issues.