Like anyone else with a longboard on North Carolina's Outer Banks, Megan Berke slips away from work to take advantage of the rolling summer waves. But before the College of William and Mary Anthropology student can paddle out, her morning is dedicated to the kind of activities that would make even seasoned athletes shudder: Hours logged in a classroom, pre-dawn ocean swims and rigorous physical training drills. "A lot of people see us as 'beach bum surfers'," says Berke, "but most of us are hardworking individuals that take our job very seriously." She's speaking, of course, about the Corolla Ocean Rescue team– the individuals charged with protecting beach-goers along a 24 mile stretch of sand. We discovered Berke in FOAM Community and caught up with our newest Role Model to talk communal living, tough training and how she found a new family:
How did you get involved with Ocean Rescue?
The summer after my freshman year at college, I came down to the Outer Banks to work Ocean Rescue in Corolla because a friend had mentioned she was interested in doing it. Training was tough but a great bonding experience. Plus, I received my Medical Responder, which is about a step below an EMT, which was awesome! It's hard to describe how grateful I am that I found this job a couple years back. I've done it every summer season since.
What does the job of an Ocean Rescue member entail?
On a basic level, our job is to protect the lives of people on the beach– most of us are medical responders, EMTs and, occasionally, paramedics. We go through rigorous training in the beginning of the season, preparing for the huge influx of patrons that come in the beginning of June. Corolla Ocean Rescue is responsible for about twenty three and half miles of beach with twenty eight guards.
How rigorous is your training?
Everything we do in training, we do together: our swims and practice rescues in the cold water, early morning physical training, the long classroom days (we'll sit for hours on end doing practice for on-the-job situations), beach scenarios and the like. We learn, most importantly, to look after one another. It's a chain of command, and everyone plays their part.
So besides gaining a family of sorts, you learn to depend on each other.
It's pretty hard to describe the family that we have here. I've had the opportunity to be a part of something truly awesome. I know that at any moment, I can count on any guard on the beach. I also know that when I'm off the job, they'll be there for me. It's a bond that can only come from the job and life we live here. Everyone that comes down here is a friend of a friend (it's a recruiting program for the most part) and so everyone gets along.
So what's a day in the life of an Ocean Rescue worker like?
It's around 6am on a Tuesday morning, so we don't have physical training but as I wake up to the sound of the Weather Channel on in the living room, I can already smell the Folger's brewing our kitchen–a gathering place. It's quiet– I look out the kitchen window and see a nice, little bump: Longboard wave! "Water should be warmer today, we had an east wind all night," someone comments from the living room. About six people head downstairs, suits already on because we fell asleep in them after a long day yesterday. As we groggily walk the walk we take everyday to check out the water, I get that warm feeling of being surrounded by people I love and who love me. Next thing you know, we're all out there in the mist and it's a party at 6:15am. We hop out, boards up and get to work.
What would you tell someone interested in joining Ocean Rescue?
Ask anyone that's worked ocean rescue in Corolla and they'll tell you it's hard to leave, they'll tell you they've had some of the best memories of their life here, and they'll tell you that it will always hold some magic in their heart. And whenever I come back to Corolla, it's not always so much the smell of the salt air that gets to me (though it doesn't hurt). It's the smile of a friend, the hug of a coworker and the conversation that picks up as though it's never stopped. I hate to say it, but I wouldn't like to think what it would be like if Ocean Rescue wasn't as well trained, or worse, not present on 24 miles of beach.
Read Megan's Blog
Learn more about Corolla Ocean Rescue
Check out more inspiring stories from our FOAM Role Models