Lifeguards offer ocean safety suggestions for Monterey County

There are six or seven ocean deaths in the Monterey County per year mostly because of riptides, and according to Kevin Brady, a State Park Peace Officer Lifeguard, the most dangerous time of year to be in the ocean is winter.

“The only actively lifeguarded beach is Seaside Beach,” says Brady, who adds that the least dangerous beach in the area is near Wharf Two in Monterey and the most dangerous Carmel River State Beach.

Two tourists drowned in Pebble Beach on Jan. 21, when a woman was swept off of a rock while taking a picture of the ocean and her husband swam after her. Both of them died as a result.

The couple had been on a tour bus being shown to different beaches in the area. One Monterey tour bus driver says that he does not caution the tourists of the ocean dangers and riptides when bringing travelers to various beaches in the area.

Logan Davis, who has been surfing for 12 years, witnessed the most recent drowning incident at Bird Rock in Pebble Beach.

“People need to be more informed because all the tourists come and get out on the rocks and stuff happens,” Davis notes. “People just underestimate the ocean, but when you surf a lot you realize how powerful the ocean really is.”

Brady notes that “rocky coastline, areas around piers or jetties, and areas with little or no access are all dangerous ocean conditions.”

There is one beach in particular that has a reputation of ocean dangers, known by locals as “mortuary beach,” but officially titled Monastery Beach. After approaching tourists on this beach, it becomes obvious that they are unaware of any ocean dangers.

The California State Parks webpage shares some ocean precautions: “Never swim alone. If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly. Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline.” Brady says that the most common ocean risk is being pulled away from shore in a rip current.

Pyper Witt, a 2016 graduate from Carmel High School, had a frightening ocean experience last year at Carmel Beach on Ninth Street. She was pulled out into the ocean by a riptide, and her friend got out and called an ambulance while a man jumped into the ocean to attempt saving Pyper’s life. She was stuck in the ocean for about 40 minutes.

“There are a lot of kids in the area that are oddly bonded to the ocean and just feel the love, but after something like that you become totally aware of the power it has,” Witt says. “This is totally not something I would expect from something that I love so much.”

Witt explains, “The thing about rip currents is that you don’t really get what is happening until you are really far out there, and once that’s happening the first thought in your head is just to keep afloat. When what you’re supposed to do is swim to the side, but when the waves are crashing down on you it’s nearly impossible to do so.”

Witt says that when the ambulance came to pick her up, emergency responders shared that drownings or near-drownings happen about once a week, but just go unpublicized.

The Carmel grad suggests making commemorations at beaches for the people who have died in the ocean could be helpful, for this way tourists and locals could see the names and understand that the dangers and risks are real.

The main factor in need of improvement, locals say, are the danger signs beside beaches.

“I don’t think the ocean signs work very well because obviously still people are going in and getting hurt,” says CHS sophomore Matt Trotter, a lifeguard. “I also think we should have a lifeguard at Carmel because I feel like a lot of people are getting injured and if we had a lifeguard we would be safer.”

Brady’s daughter Megan, a CHS senior and state lifeguard says, “I think that there should be a bigger fear factor when teaching about ocean safety and on the signs because almost everyone except old people just walk right past them.”

Witt adds, “The signs are like a sticker on the side of the road that people disregard really easily. If you want to go swimming in the ocean here you should know how to swim, even if you want to swim around in the shallows.”

According to a Red Cross survey, about 56 percent of Americans cannot swim. All CHS students must pass a swim test to graduate, but the skills to pass are nothing in comparison to fighting riptides or staying afloat in rocky water.

-Asha Johnston