The lifeguards of the Lavallette Beach Patrol more than doubled the previously-recorded high number of ocean rescues during summer 2021, with heavy seas turning water safety into a major issue in the Shore area following a deadly weekend. (The video above shows the lifeguards being honored Monday night, and an update from the squad’s captain on recent rescues and rough surf.)
Jack Caucino, the borough’s lifeguard captain, said his squad performed 240 rescues this season – in Lavallette, rescues are often referred to as “assists” – which breaks the previous record, which was below 100 such instances. It isn’t necessarily an uptick in storms or worldwide ocean currents driving the increase, but rather the shifting sands of the area. Superstorm Sandy made an impact, as well as the beach replenishment project that followed, most officials agreed.
“For years, for most of my life, we had consistent sand bars with the jetties,” said Caucino. “The sandbars are not in their traditional locations. People who were local knew where to swim – the jetties were there, the sandbars stayed – it’s just not like that anymore. The idea of, ‘I’m just going to go out’ is not what it used to be.”
Evidence of shifting sand is present on a near-constant basis for those who visit the beach daily, year-round. If one were to head to the beach on a January day, they’d likely notice waves breaking well offshore. Those breakers are caused by the presence of a sandbar – at that time of year, generally made up of sand “lost” on the beaches during nor’easters. The bar absorbs wave energy and protects the integrity of the barrier island, but the sand often shifts, and a lack of jetties and rock groin structures keeps off-season beachgoers – usually surfers and anglers – on a consistent lookout for the best conditions.
“You could walk 150 to 200 feet out there into the ocean on sand bars, and right off that, there was probably a 200-foot bar,” said Borough Administrator Robert Brice, recalling a survey of the beach he took after a storm last winter. “That bar is still out there.”
This weekend, rescues included not only those who were swept out by rip currents and rough surf, but Good Samaritans who came to their aid. Mayor Walter LaCicero said his own neighbor was hospitalized after ingesting salt water while performing a rescue. For that reason, officials recommend calling 911 so trained rescuers can be dispatched.
“People go in the water and we can usually get them out,” said Caucino. “It’s the people who usually go in after them who we have trouble getting out.”
Over the weekend, jet-skis from various towns, police officers, guards in skeleton crews, local EMTs and even the United States Coast Guard responded to swimmers in distress. Lavallette, in particular, has taken initiative in deploying guards in areas where swimmers are considered to be safest.
“It’s good that we have the capability of moving the stands and changing the flags,” said Caucino. “It can get a little complicated but it does make things safer.”
Lavallette lifeguards were honored Monday night by Ocean County, with the borough council meeting featuring a presentation of an honorary certificate to Caucino by Sandra Lazzaro, Director of Business Development and Tourism for Ocean County.