Fortunately, we dodged the Hurricane Michael bullet, but that was definitely a lesson to not let our guard down.
Nevertheless, we saw some pretty decent coastal flooding on Tuesday into Wednesday. My office looks out over the Stewart Beach parking lot and it was surreal to watch it when the storm surge moved in. We were still a couple of hours from high tide, and over the course of 15 or 20 minutes the entire parking lot went from dry to under a foot of water.
It was like watching a flash flood as rivers started forming, and eventually it ended up looking like a small lake.
Fortunately, the Park Board Coastal Zone Management team had already started moving our lifeguard towers for the end of the season, or we could’ve had some damage. They also scrambled to get the hundreds of trash cans they provide off the beach and out of the flooding.
Wednesday morning I got up early and paddled out at first light with another lifeguard. It was like a dream as we got to the outside break and saw wave after wave rolling in. They were long and clean and thick since the storm pushed them across hundreds of miles of gulf before they arrived.
As the sun just popped up over the horizon, I dropped into a head-high freight-train ride. The sun burned an orange swath in the wall of the wave as the offshore wind blew neon spray back. It felt like walking through the screen into one of the surf movies that my friends and I used to watch when we were in high school.
The waves stayed throughout the day, driven by the pulse sent out from Hurricane Michael. Hundreds of surfers lined the seawall, many of whom looked like they hadn’t been in the water for a long time.
This is one of the difficult things for our guards. Everyone wants to ride the storm waves. So, we get really good surfers who are out there all the time, novice surfers who are just starting to paddle out past the inside break, and “Al Bundy” surfers who have not, shall we say, kept themselves in peak condition.
The guards have to have a practiced eye to pick out those who shouldn’t be out there, and leave the others to enjoy their passion. If we or someone else doesn’t intervene, someone gets dragged across the rock groins by a rip current or a breaking wave.
Others who aren’t tuned into the rules may try to surf close to the fishing piers, where city ordinance says they have to maintain a 300-foot distance. So, the lifeguards end up being not just rescuers, prevention specialists, and enforcers, but also councilors and conflict mediators.
And at the end of the day, when the orange swell is colored by sunset instead of sunrise, the safety crew jumped in to enjoy a piece of what everyone else got while they were working.