Beach lifeguards sad to say goodbye to summer

Sam Edwards, 20, of Mount Pleasant, tells a family to move out of a no-swim zone near the Isle of Palms pier, which often creates currents that pull people into its barnacle-covered pilings.

ISLE OF PALMS — They get asked if they can “turn off the waves,” “control the tides,” and even “make the clouds disappear” by vacationers eager to get a tan. They also are questioned, daily, if dolphins are sharks and if the radios they use are “shark detectors.”

They have to constantly tell people to stay away from the pier, even though signs clearly state that, so that people don’t get swept into razor sharp barnacles.

And they handle hundreds of first aid cases, from cuts and stings to even possible spinal injuries and seizures, as well as search for missing kids or find parents.

But even as summer comes to a close, lifeguards at Isle of Palms County Park say they love their job and that it doesn’t take long for them to miss it. Why? Primarily because they love the beach and summertime.

“When I’m not out here working, I’m out surfing or hanging out on the beach,” said Patrick Wilkin, 22, a junior at Charleston Southern University. “You’ll see that a lot of lifeguards are beach bums.”

Even rookie beach lifeguard, 16-year-old Kaitlyn Deitsch nicknamed “Junior,” agreed with Wilkin, a five-year veteran.

“If I had the day off, I’d go to the beach anyway,” she said.

And while many haven’t enjoyed a weekend or holiday all summer long, they are about to get plenty of time off.

Lifeguards who work for Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission will work their last weekend on Folly Beach next weekend, while those at Isle of Palms and Beachwalker County Park will work weekends until Sept. 30.

Yet while the season is winding down, challenges are not.

Because the commission loses so many guards in mid-August as college starts, it’s an all-hands on deck staffing situation for the final month of summer — particularly as the tropical storms of September often kick in and can make for some of the most challenging swimming conditions of the season.

But the guards on Saturday showed no signs of stress.

All have experiences that include the inane and the unusual, including having to search for a man’s prosthetic leg that got knocked off by a wave.

Lifeguard Sam Edwards, 20, of Mount Pleasant, smiles as he recalls some of his encounters with people.

“I’ve had people ask me if I could turn the waves off, or make the clouds go away because they are trying to tan,” says Edwards, a junior at Trident Tech who plans to transfer to College of Charleston in the spring.