25 Years of the FI Lifeguard Tournament

By Laura Schmidt // Photos by Robert ShermanLifeguards from Ocean Beach, Saltaire and Town of Islip competed in challenging conditions on sand and sea at the 25th Annual Fire Island Lifeguard Tournament on Aug. 2.After a grueling evening of red-flag waves, gusty winds and sticky humidity, Town of Islip lifeguards took home the coveted golden torp trophy, the red buoy used by lifeguards when making a rescue. The group will hold onto it until next year’s tournament, along with some bragging rights.Each team was comprised of about 20 to 25 topnotch lifeguards ages 16 to 45, and events went on for over two hours. Participants competed in distance runs and distance swims, relays, paddleboard races, a pile dig and more. Teammates and spectators cheered and clapped the whole time from the sand.Town of Islip head lifeguard Craig Amarando has been involved in the FI lifeguard tournament since he started on Fire Island 30 years ago.“There’s other tournaments during the summer that are very hardcore and very serious,” Amarando said. “This tournament is more about camaraderie. We all have the same passion for lifeguarding. So, it’s just one night a year we all get together, and we show off our talents, but we also have a lot of fun.”A distance run and relay ocean swim event kicked off the competition, which involved swimming out and around a buoy, back to land and across a finish line. White caps and sea spray were prominent, but Town of Islip’s Brittney Kudia and Sean Cannon won the women’s and men’s races.As the only tournament on Fire Island, this serves as a friendly competition among towns but also shows the average beachgoer just how strong and determined lifeguards are when they aren’t on the stand.“[Spectators] always see [lifeguards] working during the day, but now they see them at night showcasing their abilities,” Amarando said.Ever wonder how those huge piles of sand appear in front of lifeguard stands? The pile dig event involved a long stake being driven into the sand and teams of six must bury the entire length of the stake as fast as they can. It’s not as easy as it seems. Teams were neck and neck, but, ultimately, Town of Islip won.The last race was a flag race in the style of musical chairs. Guards started on their stomachs and then sprinted a short dash to grab a tube. Each round, one less tube is available and a person is eliminated. Town of Islip’s Brandon Croteau won the men’s race, dethroning the national reigning champion.“Doesn’t matter who wins or loses,” Amarando said. “You respect each other, there’s no arguing, and it’s a lot of fun the whole time.”The four-person yoke rescue event excited the entire audience. First, each team sent out a “victim” to be rescued. Once the victim was in position, two guards stood on the beach feeding rope to the other who swam out to begin the save. Once the guard had hold of the victim, the two people on the beach began taking turns pulling the two to safety. This event is included on the test to become an ocean lifeguard.“It was just a total team effort, team win,” Amarando said. “We only won against Saltaire by one point. We’re all top-class lifeguards and athletes, and that’s why it’s always a close competition.”