Teachers of New Jersey: Mike Disanza, Jackson Liberty High School English Teacher and Swim Coach
As a swim coach for Liberty High School and a lifeguard for Seaside Park, I can tell you that learning how to swim in the pool is not the same as learning how to swim in the ocean. They are two completely different types of water. A lot of people sort of see the ocean as a giant swimming pool, but that’s a huge misconception. Swimming in the ocean is a lot tougher than swimming in the lap pool. With the lap pool you can do flip turns, but in the ocean, you’re fighting currents, wind, waves: you know, all those variables. If you’re swimming in the ocean and you’re breathing to the one side and you don’t see a wave coming in, you can really waterboard and get all that water in your mouth and everything. The ocean and the pool, they’re two totally different beasts. But once you learn how to sort of adjust yourself to the currents and the shoreline and those waves, there’s nothing like swimming in the ocean. It’s a great workout.
The most important thing is respect for the ocean. A lot of people sort of walk up to it, and they see the waves and they think they’re all gentle and peaceful and then suddenly a wave hits them in the waist and next thing you know they’re on the ground. And we the lifeguards, we run down, we help them and everything. When we see that we know that’s clearly somebody who doesn’t have experience with the ocean. They don’t understand the power of the ocean. She’s beautiful, but she’s also the most powerful force on the face of the earth and she’s to be respected. You never turn your back on her.
There was actually this one time it was a yellow flag day, and you couldn’t swim out past the break. There’s one gentleman, I don’t know what his deal was, but he kept trying to swim past it. A couple guards tried to talk to him. I went down to talk to him. We were very cool with him. But he wouldn’t listen. But there were rip currents popping up, and the backside of the sandbar was starting to pull you out. But he didn’t want to listen. It got to the point where he would ignore the whistles. Finally, a big wave set came in, and he couldn’t touch anymore and he was not a strong swimmer, and he started panicking. So we went out and we got him. He was actually extremely embarrassed. He said to us, ‘I can’t believe you guys had to come get me.’ You could tell he was embarrassed. But as soon as he hit the shoreline, he kind of came back to earth and he said to us, ‘I couldn’t feel anything and I did panic for a bit, so I’m glad you guys were out there. I’m sorry. I thought I could swim. I thought it was okay. But I was wrong.’ And he actually was very apologetic and he was very humbled by the experience. You hate to see that happen, but sometimes that’s the only way people will learn.
Interview by Gregory Andrus
Portraits of the Jersey Shore