The first ocean lifeguard test of the season, held at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett on June 16, drew 29 hopefuls, a record number, said John Ryan Jr., the town’s chief lifeguard, who has been helping to oversee East Hampton’s beaches for 30 years.
All but two of those who took the arduous two-and-a-half-hour test passed. “We don’t say ‘failed,’ ” John Ryan Sr. said. “They can always take the test again and we urge them to.”
Will there be jobs for these newly certified guards? The Ryans are reasonably sure there will be — either on the ocean or on the bay or at pools — though, given that their chief concern has always been to broadly extend the knowledge of water safety here, they take all comers, eschewing quotas.
“In early March, we go into the high school and propose that kids take the challenge,” the senior Ryan, who manages the Amagansett Beach Association, which abuts Indian Wells, said during a conversation Friday. “To begin with, they don’t have to be swimmers, they just have to be able to tread water. We’ll teach them how to swim.”
And later, as was the case with June 16’s test-takers, beginning the Tuesday after Memorial Day, how to navigate the ocean.
As for the test, the elder Ryan said, “It’s very much of a mental test — how well you can function under stress — and it’s a test of endurance too. The two who didn’t pass flagged a bit in the final event, the 300-yard endurance swim. One hundred fifty yards out and 150 back, but since Johnny measured the 150 yards from the break, and figuring in the sweep, it was more like 400 yards.”
That so many passed on the 16th was owing largely to the fact that they had received ocean training in the weeks leading up to the test by John Ryan Jr., John McGeehan, the first assistant chief, Jeff Thompson, the second assistant chief, Brian Cunningham, the captain, and Vanessa Edwardes, the sergeant, not to mention a number of young certified volunteers, including Garner Minetree, Ian Zimmerman, Trevor Shea, Doris Quigley, and Jessie Stavola.
“And the instructors got wet,” said Ryan Sr. “They didn’t hesitate to swim out to be ‘victims.’ So much of lifeguarding is about teamwork, and persistence. That’s why we don’t say somebody ‘fails’ the test. We want them to keep trying.”
In the test group were three grandchildren of John Sr.’s — Shannon Ryan, Anthony McGorisk, and Rian O’Dwyer — and a half-dozen members of East Hampton High School’s boys and girls swimming teams, including Thomas Brierley, Morgan German, Shannon Ryan, McGorisk, and Andrew Winthrop. McGeehan coaches Bonac’s girls team, Thompson the boys team. There were also eight who either are working for or who have worked for the elder Ryan at the A.B.A. — Cort Heneveld, Brierley, Winthrop, Shannon Ryan, McGorisk, O’Dwyer, Hope Nelson, and J.C. Barrientos.
On June 3, Barrientos, an East Hampton High School junior who played on the county champion boys soccer team, had been credited by all involved with having saved the life of Nicola Devito, a 34-year-old Brooklynite who had almost drowned in rough surf about 200 yards off the beach in front of the Driftwood ocean resort on Napeague.
Barrientos was one of the victims this time, in the morning’s first graded trial, the 125-yard cross-chest carry rescue. The water, the young soccer player said after he’d been pack-strapped up 40 yards of beach, was cold.
A 125-yard flat tow torpedo rescue, a technically challenging four-man yoke rescue, and the 300-yard endurance swim followed, with everyone alternating at the various positions.
The elder Ryan described the four-man yoke as extremely demanding. “You’ve got a victim, the beach man, and two swimmers — the landline rescue they have in competitions involves three people, the victim, one swimmer, who goes out with a torpedo and the line, and the beach man. In the yoke, you have two swimmers, one who goes out first to the victim with a torpedo, and one who goes out with the line that the beach person pays out over his shoulder from a bucket near the water’s edge.”
Would-be yoke rescuers failing to take the “downsweep” into account when it came to the torpedoes and lines would come to grief, he said. “After they hook up — the victim’s holding the torpedo and has been turned, with his back to the beach — the swimmers, who are both holding the line, signal the beach man, who begins to tow them in.”
“The beach man has the most complicated job. He’s got to feed the line out properly to begin with, which isn’t easy. You don’t want it to bow, you want to keep it as straight as possible. And, when the signal’s given, he has to drop the line, put it around his waist, back out until he’s high and dry, and then, using an up-and-under pull and squaring himself up, he’s got to slide down the beach and pull them in, using the sweep and the waves to help him. You can’t pull them ‘over the falls.’ It’s like playing a fish. If it’s not done right, it can be chaos!”
“Then, when they’re in waist-high water, the torpedo is discarded, the beach man has to come out and grab the victim’s legs up high, and the three of them carry the victim, who’s facing downward, up the beach — there’s no running in the water — and in laying him down rotate him toward the water. There’s a lot of technical stuff involved, and you’ll be marked off if you don’t get everything right.”
After each member of the yoke teams had played all four roles, they, presumably, took deep breaths and went out for the endurance swim.
Alexis du Tielleul, a French exchange student staying with the Quigleys, was first in. Brierley was second, Nelson, an A.B.A. lifeguard who was a recertification candidate, placed third, and McGorisk was fourth.
John Jr. said that he’d been impressed by McGorisk’s performances — “He was first in the cross-chest carry” — that day, and John Sr. said Nelson, who “blew her knee out in early August,” and who had to rescue a victim weighing at least 40 more pounds than she did, had impressed him.v