(ITALICS)(Editor’s Note: The following is a series on the men and women who have spent their summers protecting all those who came to Ocean City for fun and safe vacation.)
OCEAN CITY — As the summer of 1981 was just beginning, Mark Acton was trying to figure out what job he could get in town. The University of Maryland student was “all set on landing a pool job” when a chance conversation with a veteran guard convinced him to try out for the beach patrol instead. Through the next five summers, Acton became the seasoned veteran with his share of adventures. One particular rescue still stands out.
“It was one of those mid-July summer doldrum days when the ocean is doing its best impression of a lake: all dark, still and cold. Not many bathers were interested in swimming that day except for a small group of high schoolers sharing a large raft,” he recalled. “Since there was no real danger of any swells or riptides, I gave them a wide berth. However, they began to test my patience by continually turning towards the sea each and every time I blasted my whistle and directed them to turn back. Well, after about five minutes of this, I decided to take a long and unnecessary swim out to have a gentle chat with them.”
He continued, “Upon reaching the group, and after a spirited pep talk, I started towing them in toward the beach. While I was swimming out to make the pull, a large pod of dolphins got between me and the shore. Don’t let anyone tell you not to worry with comments like ‘dolphins are your friends.’ Let me tell you what it was like meandering through roughly two dozen wild aquatic beasts. It was like rush hour on I-495; pretty darn terrifying. And, all that time I had to act like the fearless, Ocean City guard I was or at least pretended to be. I have never been that scared in my life before or since. We made it in just fine, but I’d rather pet a wild bear.”
Acton now lives in Anne Arundel County and tries to get back to Ocean City whenever he can. But he still looks both ways before going for a swim.