Although I never encountered a shark, other than dead sand sharks along the shore, during my fourteen years on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol, rumors of these dangerous fish always persisted.
Bathers would often come up to our stand saying they’d spotted a shark, not they thought they’d spotted a shark, which from time to time we’d row out to investigate. Usually, if we saw anything at all it was driftwood with a piece of the wood sticking up that resembled a fin.
However, during the mid 1950’s life Magazine published an article saying an inordinate number of sharks were being spotted along the Jersey Coast. Well that ended our usual state of reverie. From then on it seemed every other bather would stop at our stand on their way to the ocean to ask if we’d spotted any sharks that day. That got tiresome real fast.
Lifeguards in Atlantic City were required to go on what is termed “layout” for two hours every day with alternate crews each serving an hour. The reason for this was because the hours of 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. were considered peak bathing hours and thus when bathers might have the greatest chance of getting in trouble. If this happened we were close by to pick them up quickly. It was a very boring hour.
One day my partner Tommy who was a master prankster stood up from his stern seat and started jabbing at the water with an oar. I thought he’d taken leave of his senses. The ocean was packed with bathers and I thought what the hell is he doing?
Suddenly this bather with a thick New York accent asks, “Whatsa matta?” Tommy says “Nothing.” The guy says, “C’mon, wass gone on?” Tommy repeats, “Nothing.” Then the guy says, “Its shahks ain’t it?” Tommy shakes his head and keeps jabbing. All of a sudden the guy, whose son is out beyond the break bellows, “Hey Billy, get outta da wahta dere’s shahks.” Well, if you’d wanted to see a large section of ocean empty in a hurry this was it. I’d swear, some people could’ve broken an Olympic record that day. Others were half swimming, half running to get to shore. It seemed like our section of the ocean emptied in about thirty seconds.
About five minutes later layout was over. We rowed in and pulled the boat up on its rollers. All the bathers were huddled around our stand. We climbed back up on the stand acting like we didn’t know they were there. They stayed a few minutes just staring at us. We ignored them. Finally, the New York guy says, “Ah dese guy’s is jus foolin around.” Slowly they drifted back into the ocean, but not without some trepidation.
Most of them were down for a week, two weeks, a month, the summer. Shark questions became almost non-existent.
Chalk one up for Tommy.