The Mast-Head: Dangerous Surf

    Single-color flags on poles along the ocean beaches in Amagansett and Montauk are part of a new program this summer initiated by the Town of East Hampton and the local lifeguards organization to broadcast surf conditions. Also part of the program are numbered signposts along the beach at Beach Hampton and Napeague, which are intended to help anyone calling for help direct emergency responders to the correct location.
    Trouble on the beach of one sort or another is inevitable once the days get hot and the water reaches a swimmable temperature. Just Tuesday, listening to the emergency radio scanner on my desk, there were two simultaneous calls at Indian Wells in Amagansett and another at about the same time in Montauk.
    There was a good swell running that day — yellow flag, which signals caution — and the injuries, a dislocated shoulder and some sort of knee issue, could well have been from the victims’ being tossed around in rough surf.
    I had been up at Georgica Beach myself a little before noon. Jumping into the water to cool off at one end of the area set off for guarded swimming, I dived under a couple of waves, body surfed a few more, and within just a few minutes had been swept all the way east, past the lifeguard stand and out of the protected zone.
    Not that I was particularly worried; I am a confident ocean swimmer, having taken the town’s lifeguard training course lo those many years ago, and I have been surfing now for more than 30 years. Still, the thought crossed my mind that I had drifted out of the lifeguards’ line of sight and, if something did happen, I would be on my own with a hard fight back to the beach. (Nothing did.)
    It is remarkable, frankly, how few really bad incidents there are at the ocean here. I took our 10-year-old for a surf lesson Sunday at a beach where there are no lifeguards and was alarmed to see parents allowing small children to go into the waves on body boards as the adults, half paying attention, talked to one another under umbrellas.
    Of course, of the recent ocean drownings I remember here, the victims were adults. Perhaps kids have the inherent sense not to go outside their depth. Perhaps Poseidon just watches out for them.