Britt’s Beach beat: The lifeguards of South Beach

The guards are outside training every morning from 9 to 10. — Brittany Bowker

The rising sun is blaring gold, and sits low in the sky. It’s early enough that the sand has barely been touched. There’s something primitive, natural, and intimate about a lightly treaded beach in the morning. First swim is at 9:05.

Twenty-three tanned, toned bodies in red bathing suits jog from Left Fork to Right, swim back, and meet at chair four. They circle up and stretch out under the command of the head guard Tara Nitardy. There’s not a cloud in the sky, it’s a Sunday in July, and South Beach is the place to be.

We’d all be lying if we said lifeguards didn’t live the life we, at some point, wish we had. They tan, they work out, they save lives. They’re a little family of salty summer babes, and this season’s staff at South Beach knows they’re living well.

“I mean, this is a dream job,” assistant head guard Paige Nitardy, sister of Tara, said. “I tell people what we do, and they’re like, That’s unreal. It really is.”

But it’s hard work. They’re out there training every morning from 9:05 to 10 am. At 10 o’clock, they’re assigned to their respective stands, one through five, alongside three other guards, where they keep an eye on the water until 4:45 pm.

South Beach Lifeguards are what many might call ‘legit’. It depends on the day, but it’s one of the choppier beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. South Beach faces the Atlantic, so nothing stands between the natural power of the open ocean and the breaking shoreline. Surf and undertow can be strong, which means as lifeguards, there’s action. According to Tara, the staff makes about two saves per week.

“Lately, it hasn’t been as intense,” Tara said. “It’s been really shallow. We used to get a lot of rescues from the rip currents that used to catch people. But where it’s been shallow, people can just stand up.”

This particular morning had mild, rolling waves that came in flat. The guards had no trouble cutting through the break. They finished up their workout with a rescue board relay, where the group took turns boarding back and forth between chair four and chair five.

“I actually like the morning workout,” second-year guard Lucy Hackney said. “It means I don’t have to go to the gym later.”

“It’s dreadful at first,” fourth-year guard Eamonn Flaherty said. “But once you get in the water you feel good. And after it’s done, you feel really good.”

Austin Reid cuts through the surf break. —Brittany Bowker

Eamonn has made two rescues in his four years as a South Beach guard. “It was a really wavy day and we were at chair five. A girl was swimming with her friend and it looked like she was struggling. We were keeping an eye on her, and when she started to bob up, my adrenaline rushed, I jumped down, and ran out.”

Each guard works five days per week, and have two days off. Imagine a job where work hardly feels like work.

“It never matters when your days off are,” Paige said, “You’re at work, and it’s fun.”

Stretch circle led by head guard Tara Nitardy. —Brittany Bowker

“You’re on the stand with people every day, always talking and getting to know everyone. We’re all pretty different, but we get along really well.” Lucy said. “We wouldn’t cross paths in normal life. We’re all different ages and from different places.”

“I love coming to work,” Tara said. “I absolutely love the staff. We have great people who love to be here, and who I love to be around. They really make it.”

South Beach is one of the most popular beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. In 2012, Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked it on their list of Best Beaches on Earth. It’s public, easy to park, has changing rooms and Porta-Potties, and stretches on for miles. If vacationing without a car, grab the MVTA No. 8 bus from Edgartown. It runs every 15 minutes on the half-hour, daily.

Sarah Alexander finishes off the relay. —Brittany Bowker

Upon arrival, you’ll notice a split in the road, and can go either left or right — the Left and Right Forks locals talk about. The Right Fork tends to attract a party crowd, and the Left Fork is mainly families. Pack a lunch before you go. The beach doesn’t have concessions, and the closest place for food is Right Fork Diner, near the Katama Airfield.

 

There are more than 30 beaches on Martha’s Vineyard — all come with their own characteristics, and more often than not, an aspect of sacred secrecy. Visit MVTimes.com and VineyardVisitor.com for Britt Bowker’s beach beat each summer week, and get an inside look at what’s happening where the sun shines brightest.