For more than 30 years, head Southampton Village lifeguard David Nichols, 46, has held a post at Coopers Beach. Over the years, Nichols has made a lasting impact on the Hamptons community, particularly through his rescuing efforts.
It was about 1 p.m. on an August day in 1998. Nichols and his fellow lifeguards were doing a typical rotation when they received distressing news.
“We had a call from the police that there was a man caught in really rough waves… we had to be taken by a truck two miles down the beach,” Nichols says, explaining how he and three other lifeguards made it to the site, a private beachfront estate. Upon arriving at the scene, the lifeguards spotted a man struggling to stay afloat in hurricane waves about 200 yards from shore.
Surging with adrenaline, Nichols tried to stay focused as he and the other lifeguards swam toward the man. He kept his resolve, and using just buoys and rope, the lifeguards were able to pull the swimmer to safety.
“That was probably the most intense save I’ve had because it took about 40 minutes to get him to the beach,” Nichols recalls.
The swimmer was given oxygen immediately after his rescue and was shuttled to Southampton Hospital to recover. Saves like these have kept Nichols motivated to continue lifeguarding throughout the years.
Nichols, who appears to be a typical guy in his mid forties, is a gym teacher at PS11: The William T. Harris School in New York City during the offseason. In his spare time, he likes to surf, ski, exercise and spend time with his wife, Erin, and daughter, Riley. And while Nichols may seem ordinary, he spends his summers doing the extraordinary—saving swimmers on the beaches of Southampton.
The part-time Sag Harbor resident comes from a long family line of lifeguards and has saved individuals of all ages, including people from 4 years old to the elderly. Nichols, who grew up going to Flying Point Beach, began lifeguarding at Coopers in 1985, where he discovered a passion for saving others. Whenever there’s a riptide, he’s on the scene, ready to save swimmers in distress.
Nichols says lifeguarding is difficult, but worth the struggle. “The hardest part about being a lifeguard is knowing that you’re responsible for keeping everybody safe… [but] it’s always rewarding when parents come up and thank you for saving their kids.”
He also stresses how much it takes to be a lifeguard. Nichols says lifeguards usually start the day with a morning workout consisting of a swim and a run. They then take 30 minutes shifts in order to keep their concentration while up on the chair.
Nichols’ 16-year-old nephew, a fellow lifeguard also named David Nichols, says his uncle is a great boss and an important member of the community. “He’s always there to help people around the beach, keep the beach safe and make sure that all the patrons have a good time,” the young lifeguard says. “The fact of the matter is that he has a great job at this beach and he’s keeping it in an orderly fashion and having a big impact on people.”
Nichols has saved a lot of swimmers, but some moments stand out in his mind more than others. In one such instance, multiple people needed rescuing east of the lifeguard stand. He had to call all swimmers out of the water and, in a team effort, rescued all the remaining swimmers who could not get in on their own.
Times like these bolster Nichols’ devotion to the lifeguarding chair, he says, adding, “I’m passionate about lifeguarding because I’ve done it for so long and I like the responsibility of keeping everyone safe.”
The next time you are at Coopers Beach, visit David Nichols and thank him—because if you ever find a friend, family member or yourself caught in a rip current, he’ll be the one charging into the waves to bring you safely back to land.