Jeff Serino could see it coming. He’s seen it before.
As the lifelong surfer prepared to tackle a “big set” of crashing waves in the Atlantic Ocean off Singer Island, he noticed an older couple in ankle-deep water at the shore. Serino knew the illusion of calm was potentially deadly. And before he could act, “we saw the white water come and take (the) couple off their feet."
Serino, a friend, a nearby lifeguard, and numerous agencies — even the Coast Guard — helped rescue the two people, and at least one other, on yet another day of seasonal waves and rip currents that washed away both beaches and people.
The National Weather Service had posted a coastal flood and high surf advisory through Tuesday night and warned waves close to shore would be in the 10-foot range Tuesday and still as high as 8 feet Wednesday and Thursday. A high risk of rip currents was set to continue through Friday.
Lifeguards from Lake Worth to Jupiter were warning people not to go in the water, and to be careful even on the beach. In Lake Worth, lifeguards strung yellow caution tape blocking entrances during high tide for fear people would get washed away by the big surf.
“We just want to make sure no one does anything foolish,” Mathew Botts, chief of Lake Worth Ocean Rescue, told The Palm Beach Post on Monday. “We don’t want people getting swept out to sea because they were taking a selfie and a wave gets them.”
In Tuesday’s incident, Riviera Beach Fire Rescue said the two people were on the beach near the Marriott Ocean Pointe resort on Ocean Avenue south of Blue Heron Boulevard when the wave hit them.
Here is glimpse of the surf conditions at Singer Island. pic.twitter.com/g0Y2r2A3OU— Julius Whigham II (@JuliusWhigham) March 6, 2018
“The water came in too quick,” Serino said. “They kind of tumbled. They got pushed over the jetty, over the rocks.”
Serino said the waves pushed the two as much as 50 feet.
By then, he said, “my buddy was already jumping in and I (got) on my surfboard to get to the lady.” He said the man appeared unhurt but the woman had been knocked around the rocks and was in trouble. He said he called 911 and the Coast Guard was “out there really quick.” He added, “If they weren’t there, they would have been in really bad shape.”
Besides the Coast Guard, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, fire rescue teams from Palm Beach County and Riviera Beach all helped in the rescue, the sheriff’s office said.
Riviera Beach Fire Rescue said the two were taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach but did not provide updates on their conditions. The incident occurred in Palm Beach Shores, but Riviera Beach handles emergency medical services for the town, a town clerk said.
The Coast Guard said in a separate release that about 9:20 a.m., it launched a 33-foot boat that pulled one person from the water; it said the sheriff’s office rescued the second person.
Town of Palm Beach Shores lifeguard Ben Demonstranti rescued a surfer in distress Tuesday morning. pic.twitter.com/NlRFr0jMwR— Julius Whigham II (@JuliusWhigham) March 6, 2018
Ben Demonstranti, a lifeguard for the town of Palm Beach Shores, said he was just coming on duty at about 9:30 Tuesday morning when he heard calls on his radio regarding two people in distress. He said he raced to the beach and found a man in his 60s struggling to to return to shore.
“He was very exhausted and tired. He didn’t have much left in him,” Demonstranti said. He said the man refused medical treatment.
Demonstranti also said a woman riding a water scooter was believed to have struck rocks on a jetty. By the time he arrived, the Riviera Beach police marine unit had picked up the woman and taken her to fire-rescue crews waiting at Sailfish Marina.
Demonstranti estimated waves at the beach at 8 to 10 feet.
“When we have big surf like this, more and more are coming with these Jet Skis towing in surfing,” he said. “Sunday, I had a Jet Ski hit the jetty. Fire Rescue treated him and released him. But we had another almost fatal incident on Sunday with a Jet Ski.”
Serino, the Palm Beach Shores surfer, who’s 35, said he’s surfed the stretch of Singer Island most of his life and even then he has great deference for the dangerous waves. He said he’s seen numerous instances of people being washed into the ocean.
“That’s a really dangerous spot,” he said. “We do this day in and day out on the water. Fishing, too, and diving and surfing. If you’re not comfortable and experienced in the water, definitely not a day to be giving it a go.”
Reported by staff writer Julius Whigham II and staff photographer Allen Eyestone in Palm Beach Shores and staff writers Eliot Kleinberg and Jorge Milian in West Palm Beach. Staff writer Kimberly Miller contributed to this story.