The Golden Torpe 2021: Fire Island’s Annual Lifeguard Tournament

By Robert Sherman ~ In spite of all forecasts calling for heavy rain, Jillian Weinstein, head lifeguard of Ocean Beach and this year’s host for the annual Fire Island Lifeguard Tournament, decided that the show must go on. And even though the tournament had to be shut down before all of the events were completed, the truncated version of the evening was a smash success.Starting at the end of their long workday of watching over us in the ocean, the energy was as high pitched all three teams: Saltaire, Ocean Beach, and the Town of Islip, aka TOI (which covers Fair Harbor, Atlantique, and Seaview).Since last year had to be canceled due to the pandemic, the Ocean Beach team decided to add a layer of positivity and playfulness by donning all the men in speedos, while all the women sported French braids. And TOI followed suit by presenting a few guards with the light blue warpaint from the movie “Braveheart.”“Hosting the event was a really beautiful thing for Ocean Beach,” said Weinstein. “We were able to bring old guards and new guards together and strengthen the familial bond we have with each other. After the insane year and a half we all had, beingtogether like this with the other beaches was much needed.”As intensely competitive as they can be, these games remain a festival of pure fun, admirable sportsmanship, and the highlight of the summer for the guards.Under ominous clouds and into stormy seas, by combining the men’s and women’s portions, the following five abbreviated-for-time events proceeded with explosive athleticism, skill, and enthusiasm:

  • The long distance foot race from Ocean Beach to Atlantique and back.
  • The distance swim race out to the buoy just beyond the sandbar and back.
  • The rescue board relay race: This involves paddling around the aforementioned buoy and back including some arduous and often hilarious attempts at surfing the cumbersome boards in on stormy waves, and to then run with the them up the berm to pass them on to the next teammate.
  • The Torpe,Victim, Line, Beach race (TVLB): For this a “victim” is sent out to the sandbar. One guard swims out with the torpe (the flotation device named for its torpedo shape), and another follows with the rope that a third guard feeds out from the large red bucket that keeps it at the ready. The two swimming guards lock one arm each around the victim and hold the handles of the torpe out in front of them to achieve the best hydrodynamic shape. This is helpful for the two more guards on the beach that pull the rope in against incredibly strong currents until the swimmers and victim land on the beach. Then it’s “all guards on” carrying the victim as fast as possible up to the lifeguard tower. This event, and its real life application, is the absolute definitionof collaborative effort at its very best.
  • The beach flag event: This is an elimination game, not unlike musical chairs, where, after many cycles, the last one to grab the flag is the winner.

By the end of this fifth event the tournament had to be called. The skies had opened up and the strong winds made for horizontal rain picking up sand to power-spray one and all with the stinging bite of a full summer squall. This reporter with camera ran for the shack, as did all of the contestants.A full-on barbecue followed under the Crow’s Nest and in The Shack. The scores were tallied. And the spray-painted Golden Torpe trophy will stay with TOI … at least until next year