OCEAN CITY – A local surfer quickly was given the title of local hero after saving three young children from a rip current that was rapidly pulling them out to sea last Sunday night in uptown Ocean City.
Twenty-six-year-old Nick Wilson merely wanted to catch a few waves left over from Hurricane Bill as he had surfed all weekend on the summer’s biggest waves and traveled to 122nd Street in Ocean City Sunday evening for one final session.
Instead, Wilson says that he quickly realized that the heaviest paddling that he would do all weekend was to catch up with three “probably 10-12-year-old kids” who were swept away from the shallow waters by a strong rip current.
“I was waiting for a wave, and I saw this rip current forming, and it was the biggest one that I had seen all weekend,” said Wilson, “I had seen these three young kids in the water, and they got caught in this kind of rogue wave and were totally swept away. Within literally 15 or 20 seconds, they were almost out farther than I was to catch waves, and no one looked like they were coming for them.”
Wilson said that he pulled the one girl onto his surfboard about 60-70 feet from the shore and instructed the boy to grab onto the board as they paddled over to the third little girl in distress.
With two children on his board, Wilson said that he instructed he helped get the third girl out of the current and she swam alongside his board while he paddled the other two back to the shore.
“They were pretty scared, but at least they were strong swimmers,” said Wilson. “It all happened so fast that by the time we were almost back to the shore, the parents were only in the water up to their knees screaming for help.”
Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin was just a few blocks away at the popular “Sundaes in the Park” concert series at Northside Park when he received a call at approximately 7:15 p.m. from the emergency dispatchers informing him of three swimmers in distress.
“We went with lights and sirens and by the time we got there, the surfer had the kids almost back to the shoreline,” said Arbin. “If that surfer hadn’t miraculously been at that exact spot at that exact time, this story might not have had a happy ending.”
Lifeguards are not on duty at that time of the evening, and Arbin says that the weekend’s heavy surf conditions made it all the more dangerous for anyone to be in the water while the lifeguards were off duty.
“I was probably not very nice to the family because it made me so angry that after we had limited the areas where people could go into the water all weekend, these adults carelessly allowed their kids into the water and narrowly escaped having to return home without their children”, said Arbin.
On Saturday, the beach patrol deemed the surf too dangerous for swimmers, but kept it open for experienced surfers and body boarders, according to Arbin. On Sunday, however, Arbin allowed swimming and his crew recommended that swimmers refrain from going into the water past their knees.
“This story could have been three kids perish in hurricane waters, but thankfully, the surfer was there,” said Arbin. “That family should be thanking him and thanking God.”
Wilson, however, remained a very humble hero in the days that followed the rescue, saying that he just was happy to help out when he was needed.
“I don’t know if it was fate or me just being in the right place at the right time, but I’m glad I could help the kids,” said Wilson. “I was relieved when I handed the father his daughter and the mother just hugged me and kept saying ‘thank you’.”
All three children, who were not named, escaped the near tragedy with no injuries, according to Arbin.
The heavy surf caused by Hurricane Bill also led to a widespread Coast Guard search for an unconfirmed man in the water near 20th Street on Monday afternoon.
The Coast Guard dispatched a 25-foot rescue boat, a helicopter and worked with the beach patrol and the Maryland State Police to locate the alleged missing swimmer.
One man was pulled from the water near the beach, but onlookers claimed another man was drifting out to sea, although there was no confirmation of a missing person in the water, according to Fifth District Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Brian Avelsgard.
The Coast Guard suspended the search as the widespread manhunt was deemed a “false alert” as they found “no reports of any missing persons in the area,” according to officials.
Arbin said, as a whole, the weekend of heavy surf was managed well and commended the majority of swimmers and beach goers for complying to the beach patrol’s advisements on the storm.
“Through education, we’ve had far less people going swimming before the lifeguards come on duty, and far less who swim after the guards go home this year, but when you see an incident like this, why any parent would allow their child to go into those waters without a lifeguard in the chair absolutely denies any logic whatsoever,” Arbin said.