The job of a surf lifeguard may look glamorous on those TV shows, but the work also requires stamina, speed and lots of skills. The National Park Service All-Women Lifeguard Tournament is in its 26th year, and will spotlight those lifesaving skills at Gateway National Recreation Area on July 28. Last year, over 200 women from five states competed in the event.
The six-hour event takes place at Beach Area E in the park's Sandy Hook Unit, and is scheduled to run from 8:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., weather permitting. The awards ceremony begins immediately thereafter, at 2 p.m.
Ten events are scheduled: surfboat challenge; distance run; ocean/kayak challenge; run-swim-run; run-paddle-run; beach flags; ironwoman; surf rescue; swim-run relay; run relay. Guidelines include rules of competition, scoring of events, necessary equipment (participants must bring their own) and other details.
The annual competition is the largest in the nation devoted to women-only lifeguard competition. By allowing women to compete with each other, the tournament encourages women and girls to consider this still-nontraditional line of work. Last year's participants represented federal, state and municipal lifeguard systems from five states.
The competition “goes by fast,” says Eryka Eikeseth, who has lifeguarded at two beaches in Gateway: Jacob Riis Park in Queens and at Great Kills Park on Staten Island “Some of the girls are so fast. I get into it because I’m really competitive. Events like this inspire us, and that helps save lives.” This is Eikeseth’s sixth summer in the tournament.
“This event highlights the skills and stamina that are required to be a surf-lifeguard,” says Gateway Superintendent Barry Sullivan. “We also hope that today’s young women will be inspired to consider this as not only a great employment opportunity but a chance to keep visitors safe and to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors.”
Shannon Gillespie, a lifeguard at Gateway’s Sandy Hook Unit, remembers “when I was a little girl, watching my sister in the tournament. I thought it was the coolest thing. I couldn’t wait until I could compete myself. Now entering her eighth tournament, she has “just as much fun as ever. This tournament encourages women lifeguards to get into top shape. People work out on their lunch break or run after work. It makes you a better lifeguard.”
Lifeguards are an important part of the staff at Gateway. Over nine million people a year visit the park, located in the New York New Jersey metropolitan area. It includes three units: Sandy Hook, New Jersey; Staten Island, New York and Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn and Queens, New York. There are lifeguarded beaches in all three units, along with many other outdoor events for people of all ages.