T he surfer mentality is simple. Live in the moment. We all have a tough time with this thinking as we plan, devise, build and schedule our lives. Recently, the news about 24-year-old Zuzana Oravcova, who drowned in the Atlantic just offshore from Point Pleasant Beach hit me very differently. It was literally, too close to home. She was a Jenkinson’s employee, a native of Slovakia. The incident hit me, more than other drownings. I have three daughters, I couldn’t even begin to think of the unimaginable. So, I was immediately saddened. Then, there I was, the very next day after she (Zuzana) went missing, in Chadwick Beach looking at the Coast Guard vessel doing a crisscross search pattern for her, just 50 to 100 yards away. She was out there, not far from us. Helicopters, low to the shore. Searching like mad. We frolicked in the waves. Body surfing easily. There were still powerful waves. My body easily turning like a fidget spinner in a matter of seconds. Lifeguards were standing, right on the water’s edge. Watching. Keeping us all safe.
With Zuzana’s story, it was late, after 2am. There were no lifeguards. But, the mentality of live in the moment took over. And, what young person hasn’t had that moment? Maybe not in heavy surf, but in other decisions. Accidents. Horrific. Endings. My brother-in-law and I were discussing such accidents. We have had friends that have been changed forever by the mighty Atlantic. He (my brother-in-law) made a statement that stuck with me enough to write this piece. “Steve, when you get into a car accident, and you go unconscious, you can still breathe. In the ocean, not so much.” Simple. But. So. True. Zuzana’s body was found that same night, just before Midnight, at the water’s edge in Ocean Beach 2.
So, I called on the experts to give us all some insight on this tragedy. “You need to understand the ocean, and respect it”, says Jay Vitale of Aqua Serve, a local lifeguard company here in Point Pleasant Beach. In heavy surf, like the night of Zuzana’s drowning, he offers this advice to all of us. “Surprise leads to panic, and panic leads to ineffective swim patterns. Most inexperienced swimmers fall into a pattern called “climbing the rungs” that of a ladder. This actually pulls your body under.”
When on a guarded beach, Jay states, “Be proactive. At the first sense of panic, wave your hands as much as you can. Lifeguards are already scanning for your swimming capabilities and combining them with all the other elements involved. If caught up in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore and not against the current. Don’t fight it. Keep waving to guards.”
Sound advice we can all use after this most recent tragedy.