(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 — Growing up, Ian Hall had one of the best summer jobs a kid in Montgomery County could have — pool lifeguard.
It prepared him well for the day he began college at Salisbury University and joined the swim team in 1990. During his sophomore year, he heard about the test for the Ocean City Beach Patrol and figured it could be fun. He passed the test but soon found “the training week was intense and exhausting. I loved it.”
Training week would also come in handy, as Ian would learn during Hurricane Felix in 1995.
“It was the last couple of weeks of my final year on the patrol. I was a crew chief at the time assigned to quad duty (a four-wheel ATV used by the OCBP) covering the north area of the beach,” Hall recounted. “There really wasn’t much going on as an evacuation order was in effect, and the beach was essentially deserted. The ocean was beautifully chaotic that day, like a giant washing machine with frothy cascades of foam churning every which way. While making a pass heading north near the condos, scanning the water, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a figure bobbing between the waves and at first thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I skidded to a halt and leapt up on the seat of my quad to get a better look. Sure enough, there was a man on some sort of flotation device, desperately flailing away in the grips of the Atlantic.”
Hall continued, “I radioed in my location, grabbed my buoy, and sprinted into the heavy surf. It felt like an aquatic rugby match getting out to the victim. He was thoroughly exhausted when I got to him, clinging to the top of a beer cooler to stay afloat. He was a big guy, clearly intoxicated and very frightened. I yelled to him to ditch the cooler top and grab my buoy. I kicked and pulled through the swells, hoping for a little help from a well-timed wave, but it was just a sloppy mess of choppy foam. I fought and fought, and just as it seemed we might get a push toward the shore, the man lost his grip on the buoy.”
According to Hall, “I ducked a wave and grabbed him by the arm. He was scared and struggling but I was able to get him back on the buoy. Just as I resumed kicking and pulling for shore, we got a wave. But, it was not how I’d hoped. A big swell, more than head-high, just took us both. I will never forget looking down in that moment and seeing a sandbar staring up under what looked to be less than a foot of water. I was crushed to the ocean floor for what felt like an eternity.
“The pressure subsided, I shot up to the surface and immediately scanned for the distressed swimmer. I quickly covered the few yards between us and coached him through letting the waves push him to where we could stand. We both had barely enough strength to slog back onto dry land. I can’t really remember anything immediately afterward, though there was at least one other guard and an officer who had arrived at the scene as the rescue was concluding.
“After catching my breath for a few minutes, I remember thinking to myself as I fired up the quad and resumed my route, this is what that training week was designed for.”
Ian currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife, Lauren and their daughter, Aila. He always tries to come back to Ocean City whenever he can.