If it had been simple, anybody may do it. As a substitute, solely a choose few make it their summer time calling. The patrol’s centennial reunion (technically, it’s 12 months 101, however the festivities had been pushed again due to covid) was a time to reconnect with outdated buddies, reminisce about glory days on the stand and marvel what ever occurred to these six-pack abs of yore.
The anniversary was additionally a time to absorb the adjustments the previous century has delivered to the job of the lifeguard and, notably, the make-up of the patrol itself. Rehoboth, a city the place President Biden has a summer time residence and that payments itself because the nation’s summer time capital due to the various Washingtonians who trip there, has modified lots in 100 years, and the patrol has modified with it.
Jeff Giles is aware of in regards to the historical past of Rehoboth’s lifeguards. And he’s invested of their future. Giles, 59, lifeguarded in Rehoboth from 1981 to 1986 earlier than pursuing a profession in legislation enforcement. However after retiring, the pull of the seashore was sturdy.
Final yr, Giles took the highest job as captain of the 65-member patrol that guards Rehoboth’s two-mile shoreline and works to maintain secure the 1000’s who go to it day by day from Might by September. The document on that entrance has been spectacular: For the reason that patrol’s starting in 1921 with simply two lifeguards, there was only one drowning in Rehoboth whereas guards had been on obligation.
Security is his high precedence, however Giles has additionally made a concerted effort to attach patrol alumni with present guards. He invitations them in to speak about their profession paths and the way their guard expertise influenced the alternatives they made.
For him, there’s a thread that connects the seashore patrol members of various eras.
“The widespread denominator continues to be the identical for lifeguards 50 years in the past and the lifeguards proper now,” he stated. “You continue to should have a human sitting on the stand paying consideration — and, on the tough days, being able to go. And it takes a sure mind-set to try this.”
For Giles the very best factor about Saturday night time’s reunion was seeing the younger guards interacting with the outdated ones. “They instructed me they realized that is larger than only a job,” Giles stated. “That is one thing that connects you for all times.”
If some elements of the job are the identical, a lot has additionally modified. For many years, the patrol was all males. And nearly solely White. Many Delaware seashores had been segregated till the 196os, and Rehoboth was no exception. Now the squad is extra numerous, and near half of the guards are ladies.
Wellington “Buddy” Hicks Jr., a Rehoboth lifeguard from 1955 to 1962, was one of many first Black lifeguards on the drive. Although he guarded what was then designated a seashore for non-Whites, he and the White lifeguards commonly assisted each other on saves and seashore patrol.
“To protect the seashore and ensure swimmers had been secure was an awesome expertise for me,” stated Hicks, 89. “And I made nice buddies with the opposite guards. All of us obtained alongside and helped one another.”
Invoice Collick, one other African American lifeguard, joined the patrol in 1969 after the seashores had been desegregated. Collick, who would later go on to be the top soccer coach and athletic director at Delaware State College, stated he by no means felt something however welcomed as a member of Rehoboth’s seashore patrol.
“After I take a look at the folks that I met there and the construction and the camaraderie, it’s like we actually had an esprit de corps there,” stated Collick, 71. “You had the chance to be round individuals who had been all doing what we needed to do.”
Like many lifeguards of his period, Collick credit the management of Frank Coveleski, a profitable highschool soccer coach who took cost of the Rehoboth Seashore Patrol within the early Nineteen Fifties.
Coveleski’s son John, 70, who was a Rehoboth lifeguard all through the Nineteen Seventies, stated his dad demanded excellence and a focus to element. And he sought out the very best.
Most of the guards, John Coveleski stated, went on to turn out to be achieved leaders, medical doctors, educators, first responders, judges and entrepreneurs. And once they all get again collectively, “it’s such as you simply noticed them yesterday. You choose up proper the place you left off.”
Herb Miller, 84, was one of many oldest lifeguards to return for the reunion. When he was on the Rehoboth Seashore Patrol within the Nineteen Fifties, Miller made $49.95 a month. He rented out a room for $7 every week and paid one other $7 every week for meals. That included only one glass of milk per meal.
Miller adopted strict guidelines as a guard. By no means flip your again to the water. Don’t leap off the stand to speak to individuals on the seashore. Blow your Acme Thunderer whistle to warn swimmers away from the damaging jetties.
The job, Miller stated, was to carefully watch every little thing, preserve swimmers the place they need to be and keep away from having to go within the ocean.
“I inform younger guards, a superb lifeguard by no means will get moist,” Miller stated. “In the event you’re managing your seashore correctly, it is best to by no means should get moist.”
However there was one order Miller and the opposite guards didn’t precisely need to implement. On Delaware seashores within the late ’50s, bathing fits had been tame one-piece affairs. The unique bikini was recognized solely from motion pictures and magazines. However in the future, a French vacationer confirmed up carrying a bikini and a few complaints had been registered.
On the morning briefing the subsequent day, the guards had been instructed that if the girl wore a bikini on their seashore, they must ask her to cowl up.
“Properly not one of the guards needed to try this,” Miller remembered. “It was a delight to see her.”
Jerry Rapkin, who at 92 is the patrol’s oldest alumni and nearly as outdated because the patrol itself, began as a junior lifeguard at Rehoboth throughout World Warfare II, when Coast Guard troops would patrol the seashore on horseback to observe for enemy submarines and German spies.
“It’s nice to have anyone my age nonetheless concerned,” stated Rapkin, who after being a guard went on to graduate from the Naval Academy and serve 27 years within the Navy earlier than retiring as a captain. He now lives in Annapolis along with his spouse and stated the reunion “brings again good recollections and is an opportunity to mingle with individuals I’ve recognized for a very long time.”
For Debbie Marson, who grew up in Alexandria and went to Rehoboth each summer time together with her household, being a lifeguard was a dream job. She wrote 5 letters to the captain begging to be allowed on the patrol. He lastly relented. But it surely was 1980. The squad had added its first feminine guard solely the yr earlier than. Change was gradual and never at all times pleasant.
“The primary day anyone stated, ‘Silly woman, who allow them to on the patrol?’ ” remembers Marson, who now lives in Falls Church. “It was not welcoming, however it modified shortly thereafter. For essentially the most half, I believe I used to be welcomed and included, after which as soon as I used to be not a rookie, I may boss anyone round.”
Lauren DeAngelis, 58, now a nurse anesthetist in Northern Virginia, grew to become a lifeguard the yr after Marson. She, too, grew up dreaming about in the future having that job. As a preteen, she would make lunch and convey it to the guards on obligation. And he or she would often sit on the stand and fake to protect.
When she lastly obtained the job for actual, she was thrilled to be one of many first ladies.
“I didn’t really feel like I used to be groundbreaking, however I used to be actually proud,” DeAngelis stated. “After I was on the stand, I took it very severely.”
The legacy of these first feminine guards is now evident in a drive that’s nearly half ladies.
Ana Villabona had simply completed her junior yr of highschool in 2017 when she utilized for the patrol. She nearly didn’t make it. On her first day of coaching, she handed out. On her second day, she stopped altogether. An older guard sat her down: It’s important to determine, he instructed her, if that is one thing you actually need to do. Do you’ve the drive?
“I bear in mind telling my good friend, ‘I’ve obtained to show I’m not simply the person who handed out and give up the subsequent day,’ ” Villabona stated. “ ‘I’ve actually obtained to get again on the market.’ And in order that first couple of days was undoubtedly a altering level for me in my life.”
Now 22, Villabona is the patrol’s senior lieutenant and is answerable for the coaching program for rookie lifeguards. She graduated from West Virginia College within the spring with a level in public well being. She’s proud, she says, to be a Latina girl in one of many squad’s high positions. The ladies who got here earlier than her on the squad are at all times together with her in spirit.
“I take into consideration them on a regular basis. I couldn’t think about coming in to work day by day and actually, you understand, attempting to should show that you simply deserved being there, that you simply earned your spot,” she stated. “I believe in the event that they hadn’t joined the patrol on the time they did and, you understand, put their foot down as a lot as they did, we undoubtedly wouldn’t have the ladies numbers that now we have now.”
Many former guards, women and men, say their jobs weren’t at all times taken severely. “Baywatch” didn’t assist. The hit tv present a few California seashore patrol glamorized guard life in a means that usually felt distant to Rehoboth guards.
Mike Querey, 50, was a lifeguard in Rehoboth from 1990 to 1995, when “Baywatch” was in its prime, and remembers it prompted lots of people to assume guards had been frivolous. “We needed to overcome that psychological mannequin of, ‘Oh yeah, you simply run round and look fairly and stuff,’ ” he stated. “We’re like, ‘No, we save individuals on a regular basis.’ ”
The calls for of the job, Querey stated, had been lots more durable than individuals thought. Coaching for the squad’s rookie check was like “navy boot camp.” And like many former lifeguards, Querey says the job by no means leaves you. Many years later, it’s arduous for him to go to the seashore with out staring out on the surf, questioning the place the difficulty may come from and warning individuals away from it.
On days when the Atlantic is a gently lapping lake, the job may be boring. However when the nasty waves roll in, crashing thunder on Rehoboth’s precipitous shoreline, each little bit of that intense coaching comes into play. All the guards bear in mind their most demanding saves, battling the relentless churn of the surf to snag a struggling swimmer past the break and return them safely to the seashore.
It’s thrilling. And rewarding. And exhausting. However for drained lifeguards, there’s no time to relaxation.
Get again within the chair. Scan the water. Spot the misplaced youngsters. Placed on extra sunscreen. Whistle the dopes away from the jetty.