It was a washout of a weekend, but at least one Hamptons beach was still packed on Saturday and Sunday.
Rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the more than 200 kids who participated in the 21st annual East Hampton Town Junior Lifeguard Tournament at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett on Saturday and Sunday. Despite the bad weather, the children, ranging in age from nine to 14, showed off their skills in the ocean in a variety of events, from distance races on the sand and in the surf to simulated rescues using paddle boards and torps. Unlike the handful of adult lifeguard tournaments in the area, where guards from different beaches compete for bragging rights, there is no tallying of team scores or tracking of individual winners at the junior tournament. Rather, the emphasis is on building confidence in the water and grooming the next generation of working lifeguards.
The event is the culmination of the seven-week long junior lifeguard program run by the town, where children participate in clinics, run by adult lifeguards, in two-hour sessions on weekends. Ditch Plains in Montauk, Indian Wells, and East Hampton Main Beach all host the program, which is open to all children, even those living outside of East Hampton Town. During the clinics, adult lifeguards teach ocean safety and awareness and also show them the tools of their trade.
The program has grown in popularity every year. According to John Ryan Sr, who helped create and facilitate the program, the Montauk contingent (at Ditch Plains) doubled in size this year, from roughly 40 kids in 2013 to 80 kids this summer. Indian Wells saw a slight increase in numbers as well, with about 200 children participating on Saturdays and Sundays, while Main Beach had a group of more than 30.
Ryan said the program has essentially become a feeder system for the town when it comes to hiring lifeguards at the many ocean beaches throughout Montauk and East Hampton.
“It helps our lifeguard program a lot,” he said.
The tournament featured nine different events, split up over the two days. On a rainy Saturday, the youngsters participated in a distance swim, distance run, paddle board relay and a run-swim-run relay, and on Sunday, with still cloudy skies but only light mist or rain falling at times, they participated in the Ironguard events (one for boys and one for girls) where individuals must complete a distance swim, distance run and a paddle; a two-man torp rescue; a two-man paddle board rescue; a 4×100-meter relay on the sand; and beach flags. Children 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. The organizers elected not to run the landline rescue event—a rescue simulation that includes four-man teams using a torp attached to a long rope to pull a “victim” to safety—because of strong surf and a significant east sweep.
“It was pronounced,” Ryan said of the sweep. “And the break was tough, so when you’re going out with equipment, it’s hard. But these kids are great. The tournament is not designed to beat anybody but to let these kids focus on doing something and on handling the water. They learn to deal with that environment by focusing on something else.”
Ryan noted that there was plenty of gender equality as well in terms of participation and skill level.
“In the younger groups especially, the girls are just about equal to the boys, or better,” he said. “The girls were terrific.”
While the tournament was the culmination of the summer program for most of the youngsters, 45 of them will get another chance to show off their skills, on an even bigger stage, as they head to the USLA National Junior Lifeguarding Championships in Virginia Beach, slated to start on Wednesday, August 6.