I recently bumped into a former Shawmut Diner customer who used to stop in before going to work at Horseneck Beach in Westport. Matt was a nationally certified lifeguard.

We talked about the recent tragedy of the young man from Maine who was buried alive after a pit he and his sister had dug on a Toms River, New Jersey beach collapsed on them. The sister was in the eight-to-10-foot-deep hole when the walls gave way, but was rescued. Her brother, though, was crushed and suffocated by the weight of the crumbling walls.

"That sand's just like sugar! Beach goers think these sand holes are harmless, but they easily become deadly traps," he warned. "We were constantly reminding families that a deep hole can easily cave in suddenly, without warning," he said.

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It was Matt's responsibility to go up to the parent of the kid digging a sand hole and tell them that it's not safe to dig deep holes on the beach.

"Most of the time it was a knee-jerk reaction, like did I hear you correctly?" he said. "But I'd tell them all, the rule was simple: you can dig holes on the beach as long as they only take up a small area, and they are no deeper than the knees of the smallest person in the group. Most of the time the adults thanked me, but I heard my fair share of wise-cracks, too."

Although he never had a fatality on his watch, he recalls a couple of years ago, on a popular beach in Chatham, a lucky 15-year old girl miraculously survived in a deep hole when wet sand fell on her, weighing like a ton of bricks.

"She was enclosed in heavy, wet sand up to her neck," he said. "She couldn't move an inch, immersed in stone cold sand that was bearing down on her chest, making it agonizing to breath. We figured she had at least 900 pounds of compression around her. Can you imagine 900 pounds on your chest?"

Matt hopes his warning may help save a life. It's one of those dangers people don't realize, that deep holes at the beach are powerful enough to suffocate a person buried inside. Now that you know, pass it along, and have a safe and sound summer at the beach.

LOOK: Here are the 50 best beach towns in America

Every beach town has its share of pluses and minuses, which got us thinking about what makes a beach town the best one to live in. To find out, Stacker consulted data from WalletHub, released June 17, 2020, that compares U.S. beach towns. Ratings are based on six categories: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life. The cities ranged in population from 10,000 to 150,000, but they had to have at least one local beach listed on TripAdvisor. Read the full methodology here. From those rankings, we selected the top 50. Readers who live in California and Florida will be unsurprised to learn that many of towns featured here are in one of those two states.

Keep reading to see if your favorite beach town made the cut.

LOOK: Here are the best lake towns to live in

Many of the included towns jump out at the casual observer as popular summer-rental spots--the Ozarks' Branson, Missouri, or Arizona's Lake Havasu--it might surprise you to dive deeper into some quality-of-life offerings beyond the beach and vacation homes. You'll likely pick up some knowledge from a wide range of Americana: one of the last remaining 1950s-style drive-ins in the Midwest; a Florida town that started as a Civil War veteran retirement area; an island boasting some of the country's top public schools and wealth-earners right in the middle of a lake between Seattle and Bellevue; and even a California town containing much more than Johnny Cash's prison blues.

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