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"I'm not the greatest lifeguard in the world," he says, "but I'm probably the best swimmer among them. At Lake Ontario there was this big fat boy who must have weighed 300 pounds. He couldn't swim a lick, but no 20 guys could sink him. They'd get on him and push on his belly—he was an island. The reason I mention him is that I could be a little bigger. But I know the ways of the surf.
"When I run a surf beach, I get up on the tower and see thousands of heads bobbing. It looks almost hopeless. But the first thing I do is jam them. Make them all stay close together. That way they all rescue each other.
"And I watch for things. When you've been at it as long as I have you don't save anybody, because you anticipate. 'Jim, we fished out two yesterday,' they tell me. I say, 'Well, that's fine, but if I'd been here, there wouldn't have been anybody to fish out.'
"These college boys are a very colorful bunch, but they're likely to be playing around with each other when somebody calls for help, then they turnaround and start after him. But when you hear somebody yell you don't know where he is. Lots of heads out there. If you're watching all the time, you'll see something you don't like, and that's where your call for help is going to come from."
There is nothing about the water itself that Uncle Jim doesn't like, but he knows that some people can't cope with certain aspects of it, such as undertow and sea pusses.
" 'Cramp' is not a word in my vocabulary," he says. "The word is 'panic' That's what happens to people. The ocean can do things to you. If you're standing in it, it lifts you a bit. It can throw you right out of the water. Then this thing they call the undertow—something pulling at your ankles a bit. It's not dangerous. But for people who're not used to it, it's something they're not in control of, and most of these people come from swimming pools—they don't like things that have no end. They panic.
" 'If you're scared of undertow,' I tell them, 'just get up on your belly and swim till your stomach hits the sand.'
"Then there's a sea puss. That's when the surf is rolling in, but a lane opens up all of a sudden that goes backward and it takes everything out with it. But it's only going to be a few feet wide—get up on your belly and swim to the side, out of it."
A sea puss is as domesticable as that to Uncle Jim, although to Webster's it is "a dangerous swirling." He does not evince much sympathy for people who can't ride out or sidestep the ocean's quirks. He doesn't have much good to say, in fact, for anyone he's saved from drowning.
"I got kind of mad going out after one man—this fellow was a fine swimmer. 'What you yelling for help for?' I asked him. 'You can swim as well as I can.' 'Yeah,' he said, 'but I can't turn around.'