JONES BEACH BOYS
Because it is a seasonal job, Jones Beach Lifeguards comprise a very eclectic group. School teachers, bar tenders, firemen, policemen, lawyers, stockbrokers, drifters, college students, and businessmen all arrive in mid-May to take the test. Some just work weekends and others as long as the season will extend. The primary goal and assignment is simply to save people from drowning, to save lives. That is reason enough, but add to that incentive the benefits of camaraderie, getting into top personal condition, limitless opportunities to swim, row, surf and hang out at the beach makes the composite attractive enough that guards extend the seasons and years as long as they can. Thirty, forty, fifty years are not unheard of, and one legendary lifeguard lasted sixty-four seasons. When I started in 1957, television had not yet dominated the home; swimming pools were rare, air-conditioning a luxury, and obsessive video games undreamed of. As days conjoined into hot sweltering oppression, the idea of going to Jones Beach for an ocean breeze was a no-brainer. Two hundred fifty thousand people could arrive. The six mile expanse of beach was quickly covered blanket to blanket. Pale pink, brown and black bodies covered the white sand surrounded by half their possessions unnecessarily lugged to water's edge. If the surf was comparatively calm, with concentrated intensity, guards enjoyed watching the show of happy people swimming and cavorting, like parental ducks watching chicks at pond side.
But there were days when the sea ran rough and ready, and huge crowds were hot and wanting a swim. Down to the water they would come, people who had never seen the ocean, people who couldn't swim, people who couldn't swim and thought they could, and people who knew just enough to put themselves in jeopardy. The incoming tide met the oily sweating happy bathers. Often, there were some rescues, but mostly things were containable as the powerful incoming tide knocked the frolickers forward. They happily returned to blanket for a little lunch, and nap of contentment. Too late they would wake up burned, overheated, pasted with sand, and a little wobbly from the long morning's plunge. They would return to the water to cool off. The first touch of chilly wet sand helped revive them and they eagerly took the plunge.
The unseen moon began pulling water away, and while the high tide off Jones Beach continued to knock and pound patrons around, it started pulling as well. Rips, randomly appeared as indiscriminant surges of retreating water followed low areas in the sea's bottom for the fastest exit from the beach. Here and there, patrons were pulled to deeper water. In growing panic, they frantically began straining against the run out, but the dry sand continued to recede from view. Then, a shocking realization: they're getting tired and being sucked out to what, with growing horror, they concluded was imminent death by drowning. It was time to run some rescues.
I remember those wild moments vividly, and while time may have compressed them, they were real nonetheless. Most importantly though, I remember the men and women with whom I shared those summers, and continue those friendships to this day.
I made "Jones Beach Boys," simply because I wanted to experience it all again.