Alert, prepared, and ready to save the day
A sunny day brings migratory flocks of summer folk to establish temporary nesting grounds on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard. South Beach is especially hard hit, both by the crowds of people and by the waves that crash upon the south side of the Island. Ensuring that beach days stay relaxing and mayhem free is a full time job that must be performed dutifully. It is a job that falls to the lifeguards.
At beaches around the Island guards sit in their chairs or atop their stands, enjoying the summer weather, looking out at the ocean. But beneath a veneer of languidness, is a focused trained professional. "As much as people think we're just chilling, we're alert and ready," says Kurstin Meehan, South Beach life guard director.
Lifeguards are responsible for the lives of everyone in the water, and must be ready at a moment's notice to jump down off their stand, grab a flotation device, and breaststroke to a swimmer in trouble.
Each of the Island beaches has a different morning training regimen. At South Beach they start the summer with a weeklong training session that covers skills and techniques. Physical training continues all summer. "Each morning we go on beach runs and swims," said Ms. Meehan. "We start with a quarter mile each, and build up to one mile. We're really competitive in how we train. I work them hard."
At Lamberts Cove, the guards do a long run every other day. Looping a few miles through back roads and then finishing with a long stretch of sand. At high tide, the guards have to power through soft sand, often under a hot sun.
At South Beach, waves are a serious threat. Many vacationers have never been exposed to waves before. The rhythmic crashing of the waves emit such gently rolling melodies that many beachgoers are unprepared for the violent force that the waves contain. Every summer brings a fair number of dislocated bones.
Rip currents are another threat. "We keep an eye on everyone," Ms. Meehan says. "Particularly people who are swimming out too far. Our guards recognize that they are here to save lives. We've had people send thank you letters saying they were just about to give up when a guard reached them."
Lamberts Cove, open only to residents of West Tisbury, and at a sheltered location on the north side of the Island is calmer. Here the waves rarely rise above a mellow rocking. "We don't have many saves here," says Nicole Perry, a sixth year lifeguard. "Most of the work we do is in preventative measures that must be taken. It's more of a family beach. You get to know the regulars. There are a lot of characters. It gets easier because you learn who's a strong swimmer."