For their final test before the start of the hectic summer tourist season, the lifeguards of Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue completed a grueling 3-hour lifeguard challenge Thursday, May 22.
An annual rite of passage for each of the new and returning lifeguards, the challenge tests the lifesaving skills each guard learned during two weeks of training.
Starting at Wrightsville Beach Park, the course runs through Banks Channel, down to the south end, back up to the north end beach strand and concludes on the lawn in front of the old town fire station on Municipal Lane.
Awaiting each of the roughly 20 guards at the finish line was a cool shower of water from the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department pumper truck parked nearby and a large slice of watermelon.
Dave Baker, ocean rescue director, said the 2014 team is one of the best he has ever had skill wise with newcomers like Josh Drew, a former track and field athlete at the University of North Carolina Wilmington; and Jenny Perrottet, a 12-year veteran officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“They have finished up their two weeks of training and today is the accumulation of everything they have learned in three hours,” Baker said. “We always wonder how we get so fortunate because the return and new guards are just so qualified.”
Drew said the lifeguard challenge course was fun but not what he expected.
Greg Miller, a veteran guard, said the blast of cool water from the pumper engine never gets old year after year.
Also a firefighter with the Wilmington Fire Department, Zach Kenny said he was happy to be back on an ocean rescue team after having served on one in Nags Head.
“I actually got into fire service by doing ocean rescue in Nags Head and when the city hired me it afforded me the chance to continue doing ocean rescue,” Kenny said.
After their rigorous training, the guards on hand said they were excited to get out to the stands for the first full day of work on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
“That’s the best part,” Miller said.