For Lifeguards, ‘Never an Off Time’

Some of the lifeguards at Indian Wells Beach. From left, Chris Cinque, Harrison Kennedy, and Sean Fosse looks out from the lifeguard chair. Bella Lewis

Tanned, behind sunglasses, in bright red, and situated about 20 feet above the sand, South Fork lifeguards are a force: protection’s physical presence. They are only human, however, and need breaks from lookout to ensure vigilance.

Chris Cinque, a guard at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett for six years, explained the drill: The guard on top of the chair is on lookout for about a half hour. “Any longer than 45 minutes, you most times will lose your mind,” he said. “We don’t think its safe after 45 minutes because you start seeing blurry‚” from constantly scanning the water.

To stay alert, Mr. Cinque reported, “Obviously, we jump in the water whenever we can. It’ll wake you up because it’s not extremely warm. We’ll go body surfing, do anything in the water.”  Lifeguards warm up for the day, he said, by digging the mound beneath the chair and going for a run, or doing a practice rescue.

If a swimmer has been identified as struggling, the guard on lookout will not stop scanning the water, but will keep tabs on the person in distress and alert the guards under the tarp by the chair. “The biggest misconception of lifeguards,” said Mr. Cinque, gesturing to the chair‚ ”is, people think that guy on top is gonna jump down and go in the water, but really we’re the ones who are going.” He pointed to the two other guards on the sand with him.

The lifeguard on lookout will “spot the victim and call a ‘heads-up‚’ then we would run onto the mound and judge from there – ‘all right, we need to go in, we got it.’ So technically, there’s never an off time.”

“Being born out here, you learn to love the beach,” said Mr. Cinque. “I grew up on this beach.” He looked to his left at Harrison Kennedy, an off-duty lifeguard eating a fruit bowl. “What’s good about lifeguarding, Harrison?” Mr. Kennedy replied between mouthfuls, “Sit on the beach, save lives, and shread the gnar.”

“There’s always the locals, the regulars.” Mr. Cinque smiled and pointed to a throng of kids up by the dunes. “If we see them in the water, we know they know what they’re doing. So there’s the people that you know, so you don’t have to watch them as much. They’ll come say hi to us every day.”

Soon after, a young boy from the group came by to chat and suddenly noticed that a few people had climbed the other, unoccupied lifeguard chair and were sitting on it. He told a lifeguard, who sprang into action to whistle the troublemakers off.

“You going in, Antonio?” Mr. Cinque asked the boy, who responded with a definite yes.

From left Chris Cinque and Harrison KennedyBella Lewis