OCEAN CITY — One local artist participating in an Art League of Ocean City event near the Inlet on Sunday is credited for initiating the rescue of a body-boarder in distress, while a second artist instantly captured the emergency situation on canvas.
Sunday morning was a typical one in downtown Ocean City in August with fishermen casting from the Inlet rocks, early beachgoers arriving and setting up camp for the day and children playing along the water’s edge, creating an idyllic setting for the Ocean City Art League’s annual “Artists Paint OC” plein air event. However, the serene scene quickly turned frantic when an unidentified man on a body-board became caught in the rushing current in the Inlet.
Two artists participating in the plein air event witnessed the man in distress and alerted lifeguards in the area who were not yet on duty. In a right place at the right time kind of moment, one of the artists actually captured the rescue carried out by the lifeguards and the Coast Guard on canvas.
West Ocean City artist David Simpson was on the scene watching other artists in the plein air event and quickly notified the Ocean City Beach Patrol of the emergency unfolding. Simpson, also a local surfer who knows the Inlet area well along with its dangers, reached out to a lifeguard he knew and set in motion the rescue of the distressed man.
“The lifeguards weren’t in their chairs yet, but I saw Lauren Reck, a lifeguard I knew, sitting in her car waiting to go to work,” said Simpson this week. “I told her what was happening. She dropped her coffee and book, blew her whistle and went right into action.”
OCBP Crew Chief Kevin Johnson, who was also parked at the Inlet lot before going on duty, heard Reck’s multiple whistle blasts, indicating she needed back-up and radioed the Coast Guard requesting assistance. Reck and Johnson then entered the water and swam to the distressed body-boarder.
“He had washed out to sea at least half of a mile,” said Simpson. “They risked their own lives to save him.”
The Coast Guard arrived in a rescue boat and pulled the unidentified body-boarder and the two lifeguards to safety. During the rescue, artist George Kalwa, one of 34 artists participating in the Art League’s two-hour quick draw contest in the area, recorded the event. Kalwa was already set up and painting at the north jetty when he saw the rescue unfold.
“The tide was screaming through the Inlet,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time. The rescue was perfect for me because I can paint so fast.”
Kalwa does have experience painting fast. He is a former courtroom illustrator who worked in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. capturing the action in many high-profile trials, including Oliver North’s trial in the Iran-Contra incident about three decades ago.
Kalwa’s finished painting, showing the churning waters of the Inlet and the lifeguards in action, finished second in the Art League’s quick draw competition. Ann Coates, owner of Bishop’s Stock Gallery in Snow Hill and a contest judge, said Kalwa’s painting was deserving of an award.
“It was extraordinary that the artist was there to witness this event and capture it so immediately on canvas,” she said.
Kristin Joson of the Ocean City Beach Patrol said later the swimmer was lucky to have been spotted by the artist and rescued without serious injury. The lifeguards made over 70 rescues on Sunday due to heavy rip currents.
“We were not on duty at the time and the outcome could have been horrible,” she said. “That’s why we have the motto ‘keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguards are in the stand.’”