Opinion: Wisconsin visitor reflects on teen’s tragic drowning off Mission Beach

Rescue scene on Mission Beach
Search and rescue teams converge on Mission Beach near Tower 16 on June 15 Photo courtesy of San Diego Fire-Rescue

Flashing ecstatic smiles, my three family members floated toward me on boogie boards, toward the Mission Beach shoreline at Tower 16, Jersey Court, below which was our little Airbnb on the sandy floor.

I was grateful the place only provided three free boards: I was exhausted from a year of teaching in cold, gray Wisconsin, but also had just tested negative twice, two days away. interval. So I came on a trip, but whatever respiratory disease I had caught, I had drained my last ounce of energy. Lying on the sand in the intermittent sun was the best remedy, and I frequently dozed off.

The first time I heard a siren and the beep that preceded the announcement of a lifeguard, I jumped.

I sat up and noticed the red Toyota truck that had quietly parked and stopped beside me. “If you are swimming in this area,” he shouted over the loudspeaker, “please lower your feet to stand and move twenty meters to each side. We see a strong rip current there today.

My family waded in as instructed and when they came ashore to drink some fresh water they reported that in the waves they had suddenly plunged off a shelf into much deeper and scarier water. From that day on, we both set up our beach spot several meters from tower 16 and also witnessed sudden and remarkable rescues out of trucks, ATVs and even from the tower itself, lifeguards stripping off their sweatshirts and jumping into the water at 16, making their way to struggling swimmers in no time.

It never failed to amaze us how quickly the rescues happened: Like a Wisconsin mosquito on our skin at a campfire in June, rescuers seemed to sense the need before they actually saw it. We heard a utility vehicle pull up next to us and realized what neither of us had noticed: someone needed help. Lifeguards would pull off a rescue before my family could even scramble across the sand to my borrowed beach towel.

On the last day of our stay, June 14, my adventurer husband couldn’t give up. He pushed me to try bodyboarding. “Salt water won’t irritate your sinuses. It will clean them up,” he claimed.

It was by far the sunniest day of our trip, and my cold was almost gone, my energy was somewhat restored. His enthusiasm woke me up. I watched the kids catch the waves while I heard lifeguards warning swimmers of rip currents at 15 now too. The waves seemed stronger than last week, with more consistent white caps. Full moon?

Nevertheless, I caught my first wave and rode; I admit, it was pure childish fun. I jumped up to grab another one, and my struggle surprised me. I had to push hard against the waves, harder than in the Indian Ocean near Exmouth, Australia, harder than the shores of Big Island Hawaii, where I dived into the surf with friends. it must be my diseaseI thought.

But after three rides to shore and several more failed attempts, I had had enough. My head ached from bumping into the waves. My knees were scraped from being kicked in the water.

I trudged towards the shore, but was suddenly unable to move. I was sucked back. Only up to my waist, I managed to take a deep breath, bend my knees and brace myself. I walked over and reached for the hot sand and my towel. I was just drying off in the sun for a moment when I saw a red lifeboat start pacing in front of us. In an instant, a blond, muscular lifeguard ran from a vehicle into the sea. Another stop, I thought. Thank goodness for these workers.

But then we were suddenly surrounded: several red vans, a helicopter, boats, a white SUV we had never seen before all arrived. A news camera appeared, as if waiting for this – almost as fast as a lifeguard.

This was no normal rescue.

The water has been drained, bathers are now about 16. It appears that two swimmers have been brought ashore. But many rescuers and the presence of watercraft and sky proceeded with urgency, diving and turning, clearly looking for someone else.

It felt like family and friends gathered at 4 p.m. as I packed up my rented umbrella and took it back to the store at the Mission Beach entrance. A teenage towhead employee followed me and told the cashier he had heard it was an 18 year old boy. A student celebrates with children from his high school.

I had just supervised teenagers at a swim school on my last day. Not to the ocean, or even to a lake. The municipal swimming pool. But some of the kids couldn’t even technically swim. I gasped.

“The water is really choppy today,” the cashier told him. “Makes it harder to see who needs help.” So it had been an unusual day on the water, as I had felt.

Returning to the Airbnb, turning at 4 p.m. on Jersey Court, a group of loved ones had hidden from the press crews and San Diego Fire Department personal. Their pained faces showed even greater loss than the worry on the faces of the rescuers I had just passed. I thought of my husband and my experiences, water so strong we knew it could have taken us if the situation had only been slightly changed.

In our Airbnb, I gathered prepackaged snacks from the kitchen and brought them to the family. Touching their shoulders, offering grief and prayers, I felt a sudden cold void in the life force. I felt their black hole of loss.

Until night fell, we heard the helicopter blades flapping skyward, not wanting to stop looking for the boy, dedicated to a mission to allow exhausted teachers and families to safely enjoy the restorative sunshine, to feel the thrill of life on the edges, the exhilaration of riding a wave not made by technology or screens, but by an energy and purpose beyond our comprehension.

Jodi McLain is an award-winning essayist whose work has appeared in Grit, Runner’s World, Minnesota Monthly, and Minnesota Public Radio.

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