A Visit With the Lifeguards’ Guru

“Yes, we’re getting bigger, and better too,” John Ryan Sr. said.
John Ryan Sr. is happy to see that more and more youngsters here are learning to swim. There are about 350 kids in the junior lifeguard program and about 100 6-through-8-year-old Nippers at present. John Musnicki

The town’s lifeguarding guru, 82-year-old John Ryan Sr., said Monday morning at his customary Amagansett Beach Association post, that all was well with the town’s lifeguarding program, from the ground up.

“The newest thing we’ve got is our Nippers classes at Albert’s and Gin Beach. We had 30 in the pilot program last year. This year, we’ve got around 100.” The open-water program is for 6, 7, and 8-year-olds.

Those classes, which began last week, are taught by Robyn Mott and Katie Osiecki in Montauk and by Haley Ryan and Vanessa Edwardes at Albert’s Landing Beach in Amagansett. They meet twice a week in each location.

Moreover, said the elder Ryan, at last count there were about 350 all told in the town’s junior lifeguard program, for ages 9 and up — “from 60 to 70 at Main Beach with Mike Bottini and Dana Dragone, 150 to 180 here at Indian Wells, and 80 to 100 at Ditch [Plain].” 

“Yes, we’re getting bigger,” he said, “and better too.”

Soon, the town will be sending teams far and wide to competitions on the Island, in New Jersey, and in Florida. “Our women are terrific.”

Craig Brierley, who coaches East Hampton High’s boys and girls swimming teams, oversees those who are to compete at the nationals in Daytona Beach, Fla., in mid-August. He does this Wednesday mornings at Indian Wells. 

Moreover, Bob Pucci and T.J. Calabrese “work with East Hampton Ocean Rescue recruits, new kids, anybody on Monday and Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at Indian Wells throughout the month of July.” 

The Hamptons Lifeguard Association plans to take about 30 competitors to Daytona, said Ryan, “about 20 town guards and 10 from Southampton and East Hampton Village. . . . Sean Crowley, who’s the head of the Southampton guards” and Ryan’s son John, who oversees the East Hampton guards, are co-captains of that team. “I hear they’re going to have that tournament at Daytona for the next two years.”

Two ocean lifeguard certification tests have been conducted thus far, the first, on June 18, in water that was “in the high 50s,” the second, on June 26, in water that was somewhat warmer. Of the 30 who took the first test, his youngest grandson, 16-year-old Ryan Bahel, was among those who passed. Ryan Sr., by the way, has 23 grandchildren, most of whom have followed him into lifeguarding, as have most of his children. 

Two more ocean tests — primarily for those who want to recertify for three years — are to come at Indian Wells on Aug. 7 and Aug. 14, each beginning at 9 a.m.

Ryan himself is presumably grandfathered inasmuch as he and Kelly McKee were the last “recerts” here to be certified as lifeguards for life. To retain that status he must work the beach at least one day a year.

Asked if he is going to compete at the nationals, he said that if he did he would row with Eddie McDonald, and do beach flags. They don’t have an 80-plus division, so, if I go, I’ll be in the 70-and-ups.”

Next on the full lifeguarding calendar are Saturday’s half-mile, mile, and two-mile swims in Sag Harbor, whose proceeds are to benefit Fighting Chance, a free counseling service in Sag Harbor for cancer patients and their families headed by Duncan Darrow. 

Those swims, which are to begin at 7 a.m., used to be held at Fresh Pond in Amagansett, but Swim Across America, which used to donate a portion of the proceeds to Fighting Chance, “opted out this year,” said Ryan. “Now, all the proceeds will go to Fighting Chance.”

He added, however, that there was a permit-related question as to whether the swims will be held at Long Beach, as originally planned. “If we can’t hold them at Long Beach, we’ll have them at Havens Beach,” he said.