Main Beach Tournament Brings Out Best In East End Lifeguards
Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Cailin Riley Jul 25, 2011 3:13 PM
East End oceangoers who may be concerned about their safety when they head to the beach this summer need to look no further for reassurance than the 25th annual East Hampton Main Beach Ocean Lifeguard Tournament, which was held on Thursday, July 21.
A surveying of the scene that evening would certainly have put the mind of any beach enthusiast at ease. Lifeguards from as far west as Smith Point and Fire Island and as far east as Montauk showed off their skills in a variety of competitions, including simulated rescues, a long distance swim, sand sprint relays and more. On an evening that started off foggy and hazy before giving way to sunshine just before sundown, the lifeguards battled rough surf conditions and a considerable sweep, factors that further showcased their lifesaving abilities.
The father and son duo of John Ryan senior and John Ryan junior—East Hampton residents and Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad members who put the tournament together each year—agreed it was one of the best in history. A total of 10 men’s teams and two women’s teams competed, with the lifeguards from Smith Point finishing first with a total of 71 points after a series of seven different events. Last year’s champion Fire Island (60 points) was second, followed by Quantuck Beach Club of Westhampton (46) in third. The East Hampton Town ‘A’ team was fourth with 45 points; Southampton Town’s ‘A’ team was fifth with 42.5 points; Westhampton (comprised of guards from Cupsogue Beach) was sixth with 38 points; East Hampton Village’s ‘A’ team was seventh with 31 points; East Hampton Town’s ‘B’ team was eighth with 29.5 points; Southampton Town’s ‘B’ team was ninth with 17 points; and East Hampton Village’s ‘B’ team was 10th with eight points.
Southampton Town’s women’s team was first with 17 points while East Hampton Town’s women’s team was second with 11 points.
The Smith Point guards were dominant, finishing first or second in every event. They won the distance run, with guard Joe Fulhowski taking first, and were also first in the landline rescue and sprint relay. Guard Garrett Thibodeau gave Smith Point another victory when he won the beach flags competition, the last event of the evening, which is always the most highly anticipated for the crowd of spectators and lifeguards. It’s a lifeguard’s version of musical chairs, where small rubber sticks are stuck in a line on the sand and the lifeguards lie belly down in the sand facing away from the sticks. When the whistle blows, they hop up, turn around, sprint to the sticks and must dive and pick one up. There is always one less stick than lifeguards and whoever claims the last stick wins.
Fire Island finished first or second in four events, with guard Kyle Wilson finishing first in the distance swim. The Fire Island guards were also second in the distance run, second in beach flags and first in the run-swim-run relay. The Quantuck guards finished in the top five in five of the seven events to take third, including third-place finishes in distance swim and distance run.
The East Hampton Town ‘A’ team was just a point behind Quantuck, finishing third in the landline rescue, run-swim-run and beach flags events. The Southampton ‘A’ team won the rescue board relay and also took second in the sprint relay. Westhampton had its best finish in the landline rescue, taking second, while the East Hampton Village ‘A’ team was third in the rescue board relay. The East Hampton Town ‘B’ team had its best finish in the sprint relay, taking third.
For the women, East Hampton’s Skye Marigold—a member of the East Hampton High School varsity swim team—won the distance swim while Kyra Garry of East Hampton won the distance run. But Southampton Town’s women finished ahead of their East Hampton counterparts in the landline rescue, rescue board relay and sprint relay to finish first.
According to John Ryan Jr., part of the reason why the event was such a success this year was because the distance swim and run events—the first two of the evening—were contested earlier in the day. Typically, the competition does not begin until 5:30 p.m. and as a result, the final event of the day, beach flags, is carried out in the dark with a series of flood lights providing lighting for the competitors. By completing the distance swim and run earlier, the entire competition wrapped up before it got dark.
Conditions were ripe for the competition as well. Rough surf and foggy, hazy conditions created a nice challenge for the guards, especially early on. Those conditions challenged the distance swimmers as well as the guards performing in the landline rescue and rescue board relay events. The landline rescue is one of the most exciting events in the tournament. It’s a team event in which one lifeguard plays the role of “victim” and is brought to safety by another guard, who swims out with a flotation device called a torp, which is attached to a long rope and is then pulled back to shore by the rest of the guards on the beach. The event requires strength, particularly from the guards who remain onshore, as they must pull the rope—with the attached weight of the lifeguard and victim as well as the resistance of the rough surf—as quickly as possible back to shore. Once the torp lifeguard and victim reach the shore, the other guards drop the rope and help carry the victim back up the beach.
The rescue board relay was also action-packed on Thursday, thanks to the rough surf. A total of four guards from each team paddle out and around two buoys before coming back to shore and handing the board to the next teammate. Getting in and out of the white water with the giant rescue boards proved to be a challenge, featuring many wipeouts as the guards both entered and exited the surf. The beach flags competition is the only event that is not grounded in a real lifesaving technique, but it is a good display of agility and athleticism.
While the Ryans are the main organizers of the competition, several other guards and officials from both East Hampton and Southampton Town beaches are instrumental in running the event as well. The competition is facilitated by members of the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad, which includes more than 40 members and is comprised mostly of over-40 lifeguards who volunteer their time to assure the safety of swimmers at area beaches. They respond to pager calls and help swimmers in distress at local beaches.