By Mariana Dominguez // Photos by Robert Sherman
For someone who frequents the beach as often as possible I knew remarkably little about lifeguards as I headed to the annual Fire Island Lifeguard Tournament. The extent of my knowledge didn’t really go well beyond “Baywatch” and the swimmers I knew and admired in high school.
Now as I stood in the crowd of spectators watching the four person yoke rescue event, I knew I had been really missing out on witnessing top-notch athletes. Each team sent a “victim” out into the ocean and on the sound of the whistle they sprang into action to go and save them. They ran into pounding waves and a tough current to pull their victim to safety while the crowd and teammates cheered them on. The event required both brute strength and bravery and as I watched the teams fight against the waves to pull their victims to safety, I was thankful that I was on the beach and not having to fight through the choppy waters.
The yoke rescue event was part of the larger annual Fire Island Lifeguard Tournament held this summer in Saltaire (host locations alternate every summer), with lifeguards from Ocean Beach, Town of Islip and Saltaire competing. The tournament was held on Thursday Aug. 8, and began under the beating sun around 6 p.m. and ended over two hours later after the sun had set and the air had turned cold.
Besides just the teams, spectators from all over came to watch the exciting events. Many were from Saltaire, who came down to the beach to watch, while some came from other beaches or across the bay to support family and friends who were competing.
Other events at the tournament included paddle relays, free swims and running relays. For each event the women’s teams competed first, followed by the men’s teams.
Another exciting event was an elimination race that began on the lifeguard chair and ended when participants touched a buoy about a dive and three strokes into the ocean. Eighteen total lifeguards competed in this event, who began standing until they were told “take a seat you’re on duty,” and waited for the whistle to blow to run into the waves. As the competition whittled down the stakes got higher and the crowd got excited to see who could outlast the competition.
In a historic move this annual lifeguard tournament ended with no winner declared. According to Former Head Lifeguard Craig Amarando, one principal organizer of the tournament, the scores of all teams were so evenly matched that it was deemed a three-way tie. Kind of a remarkable statement about the men and women who keep a watchful eye on us along the shoreline – they literally are unbeatable!
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