Nearing shore, the bottom transitioned from a blue-tinted, fuzzy form to grains of sand. Now, more warmed up, my stroke stretched out and breathing got deeper and more regular.
I could feel my mind transition as well. It moved from scattered cycling through various concerns, worries and lists of things to do to a clearer and more focused, open, deeper pattern of thought. Endorphins are amazing.
Fort Lauderdale has these permanent buoys that separate the swimming from boating areas, and I planned to use them to swim around. I was just finishing my second lap and swam right up to the shoreline. As I pulled off my fins and looked up, I saw a pair of brown feet standing right in front of me on the shoreline.
I looked up to see a lifeguard uniform and a vaguely familiar, stern face topped with mini dreads. I realized I was now, to my shame, the guy that doesn’t follow the rules and has to be brought back in line.
He launched into a well-rehearsed speech about how the buoys are too far to swim to and there are boats and other dangers, and I’d be happier and safer if I stayed close to shore and he was just doing his job not trying to single me out and wanted everyone to be safe, etc.
I finally found a space while he grabbed a quick breath and apologized. He looked surprised, as if I didn’t look like the type that would be so easy to bring to the light. I could see him relax once he realized I wasn’t going to tell him some dumb reason that I should be able to swim wherever I want and don’t have to pay attention to the rules that he spends all day (and most of his life) enforcing.
I told him he looked familiar, and it turned out his name is Rolls, that we had met years back at a lifeguard competition and that he was the rowing partner and friend of a good friend of mine, Jim McCrady, who worked at Fort Lauderdale for years, recently retired and is running for mayor of the city.
Jim and I have known each other for years through the United States Lifesaving Association. He was, for many years, the president of the Southeast Region. We even had an adventure together in Puerto Rico a couple of years back when we were there consulting with its government about the high drowning fatality rate on the island.
We got caught after dark about a mile and a half offshore in 10-foot surf when I snapped my board in half.
Lifeguarding is a small world, and my incognito family vacation cover was blown, so I ended up at dinner and drinks with the Florida crew swapping stories that got wilder and more improbable as the night wore on.
Toward the end of the evening, I overheard Jim telling a story about Puerto Rico involving 20-foot surf 3 miles from shore and a snapped board.