Weekend lifeguard reunion seeks to unite generations

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With a goal of making a connection between the town’s lifeguards of today and the veterans who helped forge the town’s ocean safety legacy, organizers of a reunion of Wrightsville Beach lifeguards are working to promote the event among active lifeguards.

The reunion of former Wrightsville Beach lifeguards is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. at the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, with an informal gathering following at Wild Wings Cafe at 1331 Military Cutoff Rd. It’s the third time former guards have organized a reunion for Wrightsville Beach lifeguards, with the most recent being in 2015 and the first coming in 1985.

The Wrightsville Beach Museum is refurbishing a lifeguard stand that was recently replaced, said Jim Arnold, one of the former lifeguards helping to organize the meeting. The goal is to have a plague for the stand with the names of the deceased lifeguards, while also selling nameplates for former lifeguards as fundraisers.

Arnol and other lifeguards recently met with Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Capt. Jeremy Owens and plans to enlist the help of the Friends of Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue to promote the event to current lifeguards.

Veteran lifeguards said the event gives young lifeguards an opportunity to see how the profession developed, while the “old timers’ can get a view into how modern lifeguarding is executed.

Ray Funderburk, who first started at Wrightsville Beach in 1971, said there were only 13 guards for the entire beach. Many of the first lifeguards on the beach were provided by hotels, he said.

Owens said that the differences in equipment and technique would be interesting to both the veterans and the current working lifeguards.

Gene Woodbury, another former lifeguard, noted the differences in tools, as his generation still used the original metal rescue cans, which have since been replaced by modern rescue cans that are softer and more buoyant. Arnold noted that there were no vehicles to move them about the beach, meaning they often had to run to trouble spots.

“It kept us in great shape,” he said.

Woodbury said that the veteran lifeguards were also anxious to tell tales about their competitions with the Carolina Beach lifeguards, which included a pier-to-pier swim and games of basketball and softball.

“Those were good times,” he said.

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