Hero Surfer Rescues Stranded Deer from Stormy Waves off the Coast New Jersey

Thomas Buckley, a local surfer who doubles as a lifeguard during the summer, tells PEOPLE how he rescued a ‘drowning’ deer off the coast of Belmar, New Jersey

Is a lifeguard ever really off duty?

At least not Thomas Buckley, a 22-year-old lifeguard who saved a “drowning” deer from stormy waves off the coast of Belmar, New Jersey, on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, Buckley — a local who had just wrapped his sixth year guarding at the Jersey Shore town on Labor Day — wasn’t intending on “working” when he hit the beach at sunrise.

An avid surfer, the New Jersey native charged the coast because of the pumping swell in the water, which produced nearly overhead-high waves as a result of a tropical storm that had been brewing out at sea.

“There were pretty big waves,” Buckley — who was “surprised” no other surfers were out at the time — tells PEOPLE, though he notes the conditions were “a little rough” and “a pretty good current was coming from the north.”

Surfer Saves Deer from Drowining at the Jersey Shore
Stranded deer on jetty in Belmar, New Jersey. ADRIENNE TULLY VIA STORYFUL

In fact, Buckley says he “didn’t really want to go” surfing that morning, having just returned home from traveling in California. Still, he “got up at 6:30 a.m., threw a wetsuit on and went.”

But just as he approached the shoreline, Buckley noticed something unusual near the rock-forming jetty that jut out into the ocean off 12th Avenue in Belmar. “I get to the beach,” he begins to explain. “First thing I see… a deer head floating in the water.”

His lifeguarding instincts naturally kicking in, Buckley ditched his initial plan to surf and took action straight away. In fact, he put both his surfing and life-saving skills to use when he paddled out towards the deer.

“By the time I get past the breaking waves, it had swam parallel to the shore all the way to the 13th Ave jetty,” he surprisingly recalls. “It was really good at swimming, I could barely keep up with it.”

Buckley remembers “it looked fine at first,” but then “it was gasping for air.” He continues, “It was facing the waves and it just kept eating the waves face on… and then it got pushed over — That’s when I wanted to go help it.”

Meanwhile, just as Buckley swam closer to the deer, it managed to find its footing. “As I paddled over, it was on the shore side of the jetty and climbed onto the rocks,” he says. “It was just staring at the sunrise… standing there, shivering.”

Thomas Buckley
Lifeguard Thomas Buckley on duty during the summer in Belmar, New Jersey.  ISABEL CHARBONNEAU

Soon after, Buckley caught a wave that boosted him towards the jetty — however, he says he “didn’t want to get too close to the rocks because it was pretty sketchy.” Since the current was so bad, he says he was “trying to save [himself] at the same time.”

Eventually, Buckley says he “got directly next to the jetty and tried to scare the deer off.” In doing so, his hope was to “get him in the water to push him” toward the shore.

“The deer wouldn’t go in,” he recalls. “He was standing on the jetty for probably a good 10 minutes.”

Thomas Buckley
Thomas Buckley surfing in Belmar, New Jersey. BRIDGET BERANEK

The standoff between Buckley and the buck continued — but after several attempts to shoo it off the rocks by splashing while simultaneously trying not to get “slammed into the jetty,” he says he had no choice but to hop off the board into the water.

“When I popped up, the deer was not on the jetty. I was like, “Oh, s—! It’s gone!”, he says, before realizing that it had jumped back into the water and started to get pummeled by waves again.

“At this point, I was like, ‘All right, man, I got to actually help this thing,’” Buckley tells PEOPLE. “Then, one wave washed it away from the rocks, enough for me to squeeze in between the rocks and the deer.”

Thomas Buckley
Lifeguard Thomas Buckley on the beach in Belmar, New Jersey.  ISABEL CHARBONNEAU

“I paddled up to him to see if he would try to climb on me because I didn’t want it to, and it didn’t,” he says. “Before I tried to grab it, it headed towards the beach,” which Buckley says was “perfect” because that’s where he needed it to go. 

“I kept zigzagging on each side of him to keep him straight, pointed towards the shoreline and eventually, I was able to push him along enough to where he caught some shore break,” he explains. “Really big shore break, by the way.”

“It just got slammed onto the sand and it was rolling around in the wash,” he says, before it eventually stood up “and sprinted straight back into the water.” 

Though definitely frustrating, Buckley wasn’t letting it end there — so he ran after it into the water, “got back in between him and the jetty and coaxed him in.” Once Buckley got the deer on land a second time, he “rolled in the wash” again before finally getting out of the water.

This time, Buckley — who shares he “never touched the deer once” — says the deer “sprinted up the beach and ran north towards First Ave and disappeared. I couldn’t really see him after that.” 

But if he’s sure of one thing, Buckley notes: “It didn’t run back into the water.”

Show More

Leave a Reply

Back to top button