The Hamptons Lifeguard Association brought a smaller adult group than it usually does to this year’s United States Lifesaving Association National Championships in Virginia Beach last week, but countered that by bringing a larger group of junior lifeguards. And it was in that group of junior guards where a proud moment came for HLA.
Junior guards took to the beach first on Thursday and Friday, followed by the adult guards on Saturday and Sunday. Toward the end of the day on Friday, just before the ironguard event for the ‘C’ group, the youngest guards age 11 and under, sea conditions had become dangerous enough where red flags were hoisted. The sweep became strong and the chop and waves had picked up, making getting in and out of the surf difficult for the most seasoned guards.
Officials discussed with all coaches of every agency to determine whether or not they would run the event that includes a swim, run and paddle. Coaches were told to see if they would have any competitors. All of them returned to the officials to say they would not be competing, except HLA.
Daisy Pitches, Liam Knight and Lylah Metz all told East Hampton Town Chief Lifeguard John Ryan Jr. they were up for the challenge, and when the head official came over to confirm as much, their tune didn’t change one bit.
“Lylah looked around, looked back at the official and said, ‘So you mean if we all go in we’ll get one, two, and three?’” Ryan said. “They didn’t flinch, and stepped to the starting line.”
From multiple accounts, officials tried to sway the kids to not compete by announcing that the course with the swim and paddle would go against the sweep, but still the young HLA guards held their footing on the starting line. Eventually, the officials reversed the course, making it slightly less challenging, and Pitches, Knight and Metz all dove into the break.
An official turned to the cheering HLA crowd and said, “Those are some tough kids!”
Pitches and Knight became nationals champions in their age group for the ironguard and Metz placed second. It was a proud moment for Ryan and the rest of HLA. He said he wasn’t worried one bit that the three young guards couldn’t complete the event in the rough conditions.
“They were so confident,” he said. “Their conditions compared to our conditions for a red [flag] is different, still it was troublesome. But the kids knew they had to go up high, they’ve been well trained. I think other groups spoke about the fact that we had some kids in every single event.
“The junior lifeguards were outstanding. They were amazing in the water,” Ryan added. “We met with all the juniors for a team dinner on Wednesday night, and our instructors spoke a lot about perseverance. That was the focus of the tournament, and they all persevered in some way. It wasn’t an easy tournament, there’s a lot of competition, the surf and currents, they’re pretty difficult.”
The show by Pitches, Knight and Metz was just a small sample size of what was a very successful trip for the junior guards, especially for a handful of individuals. Bella Tarbet placed second in the U19 female beach flags and fourth in the distance run; Jack Duryea placed third in the U19 male beach flags and fourth in the board race; Sophia Swanson took third in the U19 surf swim race, third in the ironguard, third in the run-swim-run and fifth in the board race. Ryan said that both Tarbet and Swanson are most likely — with nothing being official just yet — going to be selected for the U19 U.S. team, and that other juniors are being looked at for future events.
The Junior guard competition consisted of three divisions — an ‘A’ Division for 14- and 15-year-olds, a ‘B’ Division for 12- and 13-year-olds, and a ‘C’ Division for those ages 9 to 11 years old. HLA competed well throughout all three divisions. For a full list of results for both juniors and adults, go to usla.org/page/NATIONALS.
The adult guards competed well in what is always a loaded field. HLA placed sixth out of the 36 ‘A’ agencies it competed against, scoring 296.756 points. L.A. County Surf Life Saving Association won the coveted Howard Lee Trophy award, becoming the USLA National Champion for the 44th time. Los Angeles County has now won the overall team championship 30 out of the past 32 years. Monmouth County finished in second place, while Sussex County rounded out the podium in third place.
Ryan said that missing Chasen Dubs, who was out sick, hurt HLA’s chances of not finishing higher than it did, but overall it was a good weekend.
“The team isn’t made of one individual. If one competes, we all compete, and you’ll see HLA cheering that person on,” he said. “It’s hard getting out of a heat. When there are 10 teams on the line, they’re only taking the top five or four in some events, and we were right there in every single one of them. It’s tough to compete at a high level continuously, you get worn down.”
Hayden Hemmens from Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguard Association repeated as the men’s overall winner and L.A. County’s Kelsey Cummings won the women’s overall title. HLA was once again led individually by Amanda Calabrese in the women’s events and Ryan Paroz in the men’s.
Calabrese, who has won the women’s open beach flags four of the past five years, couldn’t repeat as champion this year, finishing behind Emily Ruppert of Sussex County. Calabrese, an East Hampton resident, did finish eighth overall in the women’s open division with 57.750 points. Other than placing second in beach flags, Calabrese won the 4×100-meter relay with fellow HLA guard Molly Mamay and Capitola guards Grace Bailey and Raylene Allen, placed second in the taplin relay with Palm Beach County’s Hallie Petersohn, Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue’s Casey Francis and Volusia Surf Lifesaving Association’s April O’Gorman, second in the board rescue race with Sophia Swanson and sixth in the board race.
“Amanda took it hard not winning beach flags, but it’s a credit to who she is,” Ryan said. “She really pushes herself and she’s always on top of her game. For the past four years, I’ve watched Amanda in the beach flags and there’s never a doubt of her winning it, but I think the girl that won it, she just had that feeling she was going to win it, and in the last run, she just sprinted and outran Amanda. Amanda was light years ahead of everyone through the semifinals, and it’s hard when you train and work as hard as she does, but what can you do? I have no doubt that it will motivate her for next year.”
Paroz, a native of Australia who has been an HLA guard for years now, placed third overall in the open men’s division with 92.500. He won all but one of the events that he competed in, including the board race, the taplin relay with Hayden and Reece Hemmens and Zane Booth, the surf ski race, the board rescue race with Hayden Hemmens and the board relay with Hayden Hemmens and Zane Booth. He also placed fourth in the ironman.
Nearly 900 junior and professional lifeguards from more than 50 USLA chapters competed last week in Virginia Beach to compete for individual and team honors in water and beach course events that challenge and sharpen their lifesaving skills. The annual National Championships head to South Padre Island, Texas, in 2020.