2007-07-27 / Community

Life In Orange

Inside Rockaway's Lifeguard Culture
By Sean Connington

This is the first in a series of columns in which Sean Connington, a fifth-year Rockaway lifeguard and journalism student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, will give readers a look at lifeguard culture and what it's like to have one of the best summer jobs around.

Summer has begun, which brings with it the start of a new season of work for Rockaway lifeguards. Having a job as a Rockaway lifeguard is great. Whether they live in the city, or in the neighborhood, all guards share an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Besides the countless hours spent on the beach baking in the sun, lifeguards do much more during the summer than just save lives. Anyone who has ever been on the beach knows, and can appreciate, what the people wearing orange do from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Not only is the job fulfilling, but what lifeguards do outside of work makes their experience even better.

Once they blow their whistles at six, signaling the end of their shift, many lifeguards spend time together socially. They strengthen their camaraderie, and become lifelong friends through experiences shared during the summers, both inside and outside of work.

I can remember many times when guards who didn't live in the Rockaway area stayed the night at my house after a shack party or softball game ran late. Guards always help each other out like that, and always try to look out for one another.

Like many city agencies such as the police and fire departments, the fact that lifeguards spend time together socially helps them develop a bond that carries over to a dangerous job where they work well together and look out for one another.

On Monday evenings, shortly after the whistle blows, you can find lifeguards gathered together in friendly competition playing softball as part of their weekly league. Various shacks form teams and sport matching jerseys as they square off against one another each week.

As an experienced beach lifeguard I have enjoyed these games for years now, but for guards who have just started, it is a whole different kind of experience. We senior guards take them out, and show them a good time.

On the beach we take these younger guards under our wing, and teach them how to be better lifeguards. It is also our responsibility to make sure that these young guards have as much fun outside of work as we did when we had just started.

Most of the guards pedal over on their bikes straight from work, with their mitts in their bags ready to play. Along with having a good time, the guards play very competitively, with the hopes of making it into the playoffs at the end of the season.

"We had a great turnout, and everyone is having a good time," said League Commissioner and Rockaway native Matthew Brady. "The more the merrier!"

When asked about his Beach 135 Street shack's recent 8-6 loss in a showdown against downtown rival Beach 106 Street shack, Brady said, "We almost came back; it was a crushing loss."

After the games, some of the older guards usually migrate down to the local lifeguard hang out - "Connolly's" on Beach 95 Street. They spend the rest of the night hanging out and talking about the game and their strategy for the next week.

Many will tell you that Connolly's is the perfect lifeguard hangout, and, like the lifeguards, it's only around during the summer season. The walls of this neighborhood bar are even decorated with various photos of lifeguards in action on the beach.

Senior lifeguards sometimes sit around and talk about their day at work. Even the people who work in the bar are current or former beach guards.

"It's great, you see all your friends at work on the beach, and then you get to hang out with them all night," said Bridget Mahoney, a former Rockaway beach guard and current Connolly's bartender. Mahoney, who was a guard for five years and sat uptown as a member of the Beach 135 Street shack says, "Connolly's is the best establishment on the peninsula."

Lifeguarding in Rockaway is a great experience, and the bonds that guards build with each other create life-long friendships.

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