OGUNQUIT, Maine — The Hampton Beach lifeguards took first place Wednesday in their second of two lifeguard competitions this summer, as teams from across the region showed off their lifesaving skills for beachgoers.
Relays in running, paddling, swimming and rescuing filled the day at Ogunquit Beach as eight teams of lifeguards competed in the Northeastern Lifesaving Competition. Points were earned with each event, men and women competing in separate events and then tallying their total points. Hampton's team took first place with 89 points, beating Scarborough, which took second place with 41. A crew from Nova Scotia’s province-wide team placed third with 38.
Ogunquit also competed along with York, Wells, Kennebunk and Salisbury, Massachusetts. Guards from each team said the day was about showing beachgoers their athletic ability, competing against their fellow guards for bragging rights and enjoying a rare Wednesday where competing guards get to relax on the beach rather than stand watch.
A source of pride
Patrick Murphy, Hampton’s lifeguard chief, said winning competitions like the one Wednesday is a source of pride. Hampton hosted the New England Lifesaving Competition last week and won with 135 points, beating second-place Nauset, Massachusetts’ 57 points and Salisbury’s 56.
Nick’s Steakhouse opens in York: Top-tier steaks, 100 different bourbons and more
“It means a lot,” Murphy said. “It means you’ve worked hard in the summer. You’re going against other great beaches that put a lot of work in as well. We try to make everyone proud of what we’re doing.”
Many of the guards are current or former athletes who say being a lifeguard brings a unique experience they only get when they’re on the beach. Spencer Sawyer joined the Hampton Beach lifeguards this year after graduating college from the University of New Hampshire, hired upon being recommended by friends. He won the men’s soft sand mile run, having run cross country in high school and college.
Sawyer said he never swam before joining the lifeguards, and that events that combine running, swimming and carrying mock victims to shore are unlike what he is used to in his career as a runner.
“It’s something new, and it’s really fun. I’ve been enjoying it,” Sawyer said.
'You've got some elite athletes here'
Every team brings a different set of skills. Scarborough’s team was comprised completely of high school-age guards who participate in a year-round club team to stay fit in the water.
David Steinbrick, 16, who won three gold medals for Scarborough by mid-afternoon, said the display for beachgoers should give them some comfort as they wade into the Atlantic Ocean waters.
“It’s nice to see you’re going to be probably saved by somebody,” Steinbrick said. “You don’t have a bunch of bum lifeguards sitting around. You’ve got some elite athletes here.”
Derrick Feole, supervisor for Salisbury Beach Ocean Rescue, said the competition is as stressful as it is fun. He said at 57 he continues to stay in shape year-round and has competed in events like an 80-mile paddle in Switzerland that he completed in 23 and a half hours.
Events like the ones on Wednesday, he said, are taken just as seriously.
“I don’t just like going in and hoping I do well. I train pretty hard,” Feole said. “I love it, I really do, but it is stressful.”
The guards from Nova Scotia said traveling to the states to compete is a trip they look forward to each year, but which was unavailable for the last couple of years due to COVID-19. The borders were open for travel again ahead of this summer, and the Nova Scotia team said they were excited to get the chance to come to Maine this summer. Their crew included one member, Dean Sangster, who in 2018 made the Canadian national lifesaving team and competed in Australia.
The day culminated with an intense game known as beach flags where guards begin on their bellies and, upon the blow of a whistle, burst up to turn around and sprint towards a line of flags in the sand. Like musical chairs, there is one less flag than there are guards, who at times push and fight for the flag to come out on top. Guards who won shook hands with the ones they beat, and those sidelined cheered excitedly for their teammates.
Ogunquit Lifeguard Lt. Christian Saulnier said the guards enjoy the competition, but the camaraderie is just as strong between the teams who have one thing in common – keeping the beaches safe.
“It’s an opportunity and a blessing to guard the beach, and show off the skills that they work hard in every morning, and just really come together as a whole unit of lifeguards from all around,” Saulnier said. “It’s a pretty cool thing.”
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Hampton Beach NH lifeguards are 2022 Northeastern Lifesaving champs