The first weekend of August belongs to the kids at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett.
In what has become a summer tradition, 200 children ranging in age from 9 to 14 descended on the popular ocean beach on Saturday and Sunday for the 20th annual East Hampton Junior Lifeguard Tournament. The event is the culmination of the town’s junior lifeguard program and gives the youngsters—many of whom aspire to be certified ocean lifeguards one day—a chance to show off the ocean-taming skills they learn as part of the program. The program runs for six weeks in the summer, with sessions at Indian Wells, East Hampton Main Beach and Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk.
During those sessions—which are open to all children, even those outside of East Hampton Town—adult lifeguards teach ocean safety and awareness and also show them the tools of their trade during two-hour clinics on Saturdays and Sundays. According to John Ryan Sr., who runs the program along with his son, John Ryan Jr., there were roughly 200 kids in the competition over the weekend, but approximately 280 took part in the summer program.
Since its inception two decades ago, the junior lifeguard program has been a key asset for the community, as it teaches children the skills they need to enjoy the ocean safely. It also serves as an excellent feeder program for staffing the many ocean beaches with qualified lifeguards. Many children who went through the program have gone on to become certified ocean lifeguards, and many of them—including some who were competing in the junior tournament last year—were back over the weekend to help staff the event and coach the kids who were competing in the sand and surf.
A total of 10 events are contested over the course of the two days, and competitors are split into three groups according to age—the ‘A’ group for 14- and 13-year-olds; the ‘B’ group for 11- and 12-year-olds; and the ‘C’ group for 9- and 10-year-olds. The oldest children compete first in each event, while the ‘C’ group competes last, and, where appropriate, the event distances are shortened for each progressively younger age group.
On a rainy Saturday, the youngsters competed in a distance run (roughly a 2K or 1.24 miles), a distance swim (between 300 and 400 meters for the ‘A’ group), a rescue board relay, a run-swim-run relay and a sprint relay. The skies cleared and the sun came out on Sunday for five more events—the Ironguard (an individual event comprised of a distance swim, distance run and distance paddle), the landline rescue, two-man torp rescue, two-man paddleboard rescue and beach flags. Medals are awarded to the top four finishers in each event, and ribbons are given up to eighth place, but Ryan has always maintained that who finishes where is not part of the spirit of this event. For him, it’s all about seeing the enthusiasm and cooperation between the children, as well as the support of their parents, who cheer them on at the beach throughout the day. It was worth noting, however, that the top five finishers in the Ironguard were females.
While the rain was not ideal on Saturday, Ryan said that the ocean conditions were perfect for the event. It was a green flag day, meaning calm ocean conditions, although Ryan said there was some significant surf break, which provided a nice challenge for the competitors.
The event ran a bit more smoothly this year as competition got underway earlier on both days, meaning it was over by 1 p.m. Because of that, a new feature was added to this year’s tournament—parental competition. At the conclusion of regular competition on Sunday, the organizers conducted a run-swim-run for mothers and a separate run-swim-run for fathers. They also added a “water” beach flags event, with tennis balls thrown out into the water that the adults had to swim out for.
“It was a great way to get adults wet and enjoy the tournament in a different way,” Ryan said. “We were telling the kids to coach their parents on how to go in the water.”
As is usually the case, the tournament was conducted with the cooperation and help of the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad, which lends a hand for every water-related event in the area. There are now 90 people on the squad, which is in its 12th year of existence.