One To Watch


Lori Hutzler Eckert

During the summer of 2005, Gary Wise pulled the bodies of two young fathers from the Emerald Coast waters. The tragic drownings led the longtime surfer and certified lifeguard to take action.

“I decided I was not going to stand by and see people put themselves in that position again – that’s the bottom line,” he said.

Wise now serves as the South Walton Fire District’s surf rescue director, overseeing the program he helped develop last year, which includes 24 lifeguards manning six towers across the Beaches of South Walton. In the first month of this year’s season, Wise said the lifeguarding staff executed 2,516 preventative actions on area beaches.

But this Australian native, PGA pro and United States Lifesaving Association member has a true passion for educating people about beach safety. Wise and his staff made nearly 10,000 personal contacts with beachgoers in fewer than 25 days this spring, spreading the word about beach safety.

“What’s true about lifesaving is, it is not just about reacting to a situation, but preventing a situation from happening,” he said.