The NYPD received the 911 call around 6:30 p.m. They believe that the swimmer went missing shortly after 6 p.m.
The NYPD deployed their air and sea rescue team, with two choppers circling the area. The choppers dropped two divers into the ocean who came up empty.
"It's got to be very difficult for them. It's got to be frustrating. To not come up with an answer," said Kevin O' Connor, a resident.
A witness told Eyewitness News he saw a man breast stroking, his head bobbing in and out of the water, frantically screaming and waving for help.
The witness says he tried to swim to him, but when he disappeared underwater he called 911.
Rescue teams showed up within minutes of the call, with more than 100 responders between the NYPD and FDNY. At least 10 rescue vessels scanned the water for more than an hour.
"It's Rockaway. You always have rip currents and rip tides. This is something that you're used to," said Liz Garrity, a resident. "Unfortunately this is the time of year where there's no lifeguards. No swimming means no swimming."
"The tides are rough, there's a storm out in the Atlantic and people are swimming when they shouldn't be," O'Conner said.
As soon as the sun went down just before 8 p.m., rescue teams dramatically scaled back the effort. Only one rescue boat remained circling in the water.