Men in Speedos alongside impressively muscular women storming the beach by the hundreds – no, it’s not European vacation week on the Outer Banks, it’s the annual South Atlantic Lifesaving Competition at Jennette’s Pier. We were out today in the blazing 96 degree heat to catch some of the action happening at the competition, which hosted 12 teams from a region stretching from Virginia Beach to Northern Florida.
“These are guards whose goal is to be stronger, be faster, be better swimmers and paddlers – all things that we need to do in our job to be better,” said Tom Gill, President of the South Atlantic Lifesaving Association and Deputy Chief of Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service. “This competition is motivation for them to be better, and a lot of them take it to the high extremes.”
The competition is a two-day event, held at a different location each year; this was the first time being hosted in Nags Head. Included in the competition are a series of rescue challenges (which uses teams of lifeguards), these events include the Landline Rescue, Board Rescue, Beach Relay, and Taplin Relay. There are also individual challenges, such as the Surf Race, Run-Swim-Run, and International Ironman/Ironwoman. These are divided into open events, in which any men and women can enter in their divisions, and age group events, which are divided into five-year progressions. “Everybody that scores contributes to the overall team point score,” Gill said.
Regionals are something not to be taken lightly, according to some of the competitors. Meryl Estep is a guard for Kure Beach Ocean Rescue and a student at Appalachian State, she said her team traveled seven hours up the coast to compete this year, “We have 15 guards here out of a total of 30,” Estep said. “We had tryouts, and I made the cut. I’ll be competing in the Paddleboard Rescue Race, Taplin Relay, Surf-Swim, and Beach Flags Relay.”
Competitive spirits are also high among local teams, according to Nags Head Ocean Rescue Director Chad Motz. “Our division is pretty competitive,” Motz said. “We’re a part of the small beach division, with 40 people on our staff. Nags Head is doing pretty good, and we won it last year, so we’re gunning for First Place, but it’s very competitive.”
Nags Head Ocean Rescue trains specifically for this event, in addition to its rigorous Monday/Wednesday training routines, Motz explained. “We hold physical abilities at a pretty high standard just for a job. This is my tenth year competing at regional championships, and I’ve been to five Nationals; I’m very competitive myself, so I kind of breathe that into my employees as well.”
All competition aside, a major aspect of the event is cooperation and camaraderie, according to Gill. The event allows different stations to build relationships and sportsmanship. “The organizations down here work really well together,” Gill said. “It’s events like these where they get to know each other, these are the kinds of days that make that much easier and really helps them working together.”
The top finishers and teams from this competition may advance to the National Championships later this month, if they choose. This year’s Nationals are being held a little bit further from home, in Manhattan Beach, California. Next year, however, the Championships will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in Virginia Beach – something many of the local guards have to look forward to.