Figure 10.

In all that has been said, bear in mind that the cardinal secret of surf-bathing, in all contingencies, is proper balancing, and nothing but experience seconding knowledge can teach you to measure forces and judge correctly to that end.

So far the sea has been a good-natured, though sometimes a rough, playfellow - never really irritable or vindictive; but unfortunately this disposition cannot be counted upon. That there are dangers attendant upon ocean-bathing, he who has been present when human life was being fought for can abundantly testify. To be sure, most of the "accidents" are results of carelessness or ignorance; but then the same may be said of accidents everywhere, and a short summary of the dangers peculiar to the surf may be of use. Some of these have been already indicated, as, for instance, dangers arising from the "undertow.' This by itself is not likely to trouble any one except a very poor swimmer, and then only when the ditch is deep; for the reason that the power of the "undertow" is confined practically to within the line of breakers, and cannot carry a bather any distance. In the case of a "sea-poose," however, it is different. I have seen a current of this character running out for many yards beyond a man's depth, and against which a strong swimmer would find it almost impossible to make headway. Fortunately such instances are rare; but he who may be thus entangled must remember, the moment he realizes his predicament, that by attempting to fight the current and swim directly toward the beach, he, as a general thing, only wastes his strength. He must strike out for a few yards along shore; and a slight effort so directed will soon take him out of the dangerous influence.

Surf And Surf Bathing 116

Figure 11.

Again, the "undertow" may help to a disaster in the following way: As a rule, there is no real danger in being thrown by a breaker; but there have been occasions when an inexperienced or exhausted bather has been struck in such a way, or thrown with such force, as to be more or less injured or dazed; and then, before he could regain control of himself, and while prostrate in the water, he has been drawn back by the "undertow,' rolled under and pounded down by each succeeding breaker, and finally even drowned.

The great majority, however, of drowning accidents on the seaboard - that is, of those which can be even indirectly at- tributed to the surf - take place under the following circumstances: Some strong swimmer comes to the beach, entirely ignorant of the strength and ways of the ocean; he sneers at the warnings of surf-men, and, choosing a calm interval, dashes through the line of breakers, and amuses himself by swimming out; ropes and log-buoys are entirely beneath his notice. Finally he begins to feel tired; the chop of the seas splashes up into his nose and eyes; it is not so easy as swimming in still water, and he concludes to come in. Now, the chances are that he will do this without any serious difficulty, even though he does not quite understand how to swim high, with long strokes when on the inner slope and summit of each wave, until it fairly shoots him toward the shore; and then to rest and hold his own while on the outer slope and in the trough. There is always, however, just a possibility, and the stronger the surf the more possible is it, that the inexperienced swimmer can not come through the line of breakers when and where he wants to: he must wait their pleasure; and if he has measured his strength closely, and the delay be long, it is easy to see how that, in trying to pass, he may be thrown down into the "undertow," and lack sufficient strength to extricate himself.

Next to caution and life-lines, surf dangers are best provided against by a long rope, with a slip-noose at the end, either wound on a portable reel or coiled and placed at the lowest point of the beach. Then a rescuer, throwing the noose around his waist, can make his way to a drowning man, and both can be drawn in by those on shore. In default of some such contrivance, the next best thing is for all the able-bodied to form a chain of hands; for, let me say, there is nothing more difficult, even for a strong swimmer and expert surfman, than bringing a drowning person in through, or out of, a line of heavy breakers.

I recall an incident which happened some years since at Bridgehampton, Long Island, and which illustrates the difficulty of which I speak. A young clergyman had arrived only the day before: he was unable to swim a stroke; and his first exploit was to wade out into the ocean, entirely ignorant of the fact that the ditch was that day both abrupt and deep, - or perhaps even that there was such a thing as a ditch, - and that a single step would take him from a depth of four feet and safety, into one of six and considerable danger. Whether he took the step, or the "undertow" took it for him, is not material; but the bathing-master and one other saw the trouble, dashed in, and, reaching the drowning man, were able to keep his head above water. But, what with this and fighting the waves, they could not seem to make an inch shoreward. There were not many on the beach at the time, and only four or five men who could be of any use. A chain of hands was promptly formed, but it was not long enough to bring the inside man into water less than waist-deep; and the "undertow," pouring into the big ditch, sucked with all its might. So they swung backward and forward, now gaining, now losing ground. And meanwhile, the bathing-master and those nearest him, being out of depth, were fast becoming exhausted. All, so far, had instinctively tried to fight the waves, but it was evident that a change of tactics was necessary; and fortunately at that moment a great ridge of water was seen sweeping in. Thought came quickly then, and the word, "Let it throw us!' was passed down the line; then it struck, and for a moment there was a confused tangle of legs and arms and heads and bodies swirled around, over, under, and against each other. Those closer inshore were hurled upon the beach; but the chain held together long enough to drag the others into a place of safety. Though there were no casualties of any consequence, I am very certain that each link of that chain will not soon forget the experience, and will appreciate the truth of my last statement.

And now let me try to temper all this, by saying that the dangers of surf-bathing are, in reality, much less than those that beset still-water swimming, where one is usually out of his depth, and with very little chance of escape in case of cramp or exhaustion. Only make friends with the ocean, learn its ways, study its moods a little, and humor it, while you keep careful watch against any sudden ebullition of passion. Those who stand aloof can never realize the pleasure and excitement of the sport they forego; nor shall they know the profound satisfaction born of successfully combating a trio of big rollers, which have tossed companions and rivals in confusion on the beach.