Angel Of The Surf
Jeff Field-- Training Officer, Pacific Grove Ocean Rescue
Thursday, December 30, 1999
If you believe that people are born with a destiny, that each person who appears on the planet arrives with a predetermined mission in life, then there''s no doubt about Jeff Field. His destiny is to save lives.
You often hear about what Jeff Field does. You just don''t know that he''s the one who''s doing it. The surfer washed out to sea. The little girl who fell off the rocks. The disabled boat that ran aground. The diver suffering from the "bends." Chances are, if there''s a marine emergency, Jeff Field''s outfit got the call.
Field is the training officer for Pacific Grove Ocean Rescue, the Central Coast''s premier marine-emergency response team and one of the most advanced units of its kind in the entire state. The unit''s job is one of the most demanding, most intense, most emotionally charged of any public-service organization there is. With thousands of tourists and locals partaking of our deceptively perilous waters--surfing, diving, boating, fishing, or just wading about--there''s no way to place a value on the work done by Field and the 30-some other volunteer members of Ocean Rescue.
Don''t bother asking Field why he''s devoted his life to saving the lives of others. You can ask him how he got here, inspired by his marine geologist/diver father and by his mother, who encouraged him to become a lifeguard at 16. You can ask him about his training, like the state lifeguard class in Huntington Beach where, among other seemingly impossible things, he towed a seven-ton boat through the water with nothing but a rescue tube and a pair of fins. You can ask him about rescues that have pushed him to his limit, but you might have to word that question a little differently in order to get an answer.
Just ask him to describe a prototypical rescue. He''ll lower his eyes, maybe blush a little, and tell you about a call Ocean Rescue got last year when a kayaker lost his boat after it flipped in 8-foot-plus seas off of Asilomar. "He had no business being out there," Field remembers. As much trouble as the kayaker was in, the would-be rescuer (a former water polo player) who thought he could save him was in far worse shape. "I was afraid the guy was going to die." Field put on his wetsuit and fins, grabbed his tube (that orange thing lifeguards carry), and plunged into the water. To reach the pair in a hurry, Field utilized the very same rip current that prevented the two men from swimming back to shore. Even though Field, a football player in college, is strong enough to haul a 14,000-pound boat, he had trouble pulling the two men through the rip current that day. Field managed to get the men close enough to the shore for fellow Ocean Rescue member Kip Evans and off-duty lifeguard Erik Landry (Field''s boss at his day job) to help him complete the rescue. "A lot of times," Field says, "we just have to power through the rip."
Field''s boat-pulling ability came in handy this past spring, when a pleasure craft with three people on board ran out of gas near the mouth of the Salinas River. Though anchored, the boat was being dragged to shore by 4-to-6-foot surf and 25-knot winds, endangering both the craft and the three people it carried. Again with Landry, Field swam 250 yards to the boat, clipped onto it, and swam like mad against the waves, holding it in place for 10 minutes until the Coast Guard showed up. When their boat couldn''t get close enough, Field took a rope and swam it 100 yards to the vessel, which tugged the disabled craft out of harm''s way.
Even a guy who does this in his spare time needs to earn a living. Field''s a seasonal lifeguard for California State Parks and a graduate student at Moss Landing Marine Labs, where he''s studying ichthyology, researching fish habitat from a two-person submarine. He surfs, too, when he gets a chance. "I have a very understanding girlfriend," he says. "She inspires me to help other people."
Field''s also a volunteer firefighter for the Pacific Grove Fire Department, which houses the Ocean Rescue van and serves as command central for the outfit. Ocean Rescue dates to 1963, when volunteers began roaming the coastline to warn out-of-towners about nasty surf conditions.
Today the outfit runs on donations and grants; Field''s applying for a grant to fund ocean safety programs for fourth-graders, and he''s always on the lookout for donations and other support from the community Ocean Rescue serves.
Field''s the kind of guy anybody would want to meet. Likable, sincere, dedicated. Just be careful to meet him when you want to, not when you have to.
Those interested in supporting Ocean Rescue may call 648-3110.