Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pools, Beaches and Swimming

The Times has an article regarding the opening of a public pool and its problems.

I started as a NYC lifeguard in 1959 and if I recall we had a beastly hot summer, 59 0r 60, at Coney Island. We had almost one million people at the beach. Yes we had some issues but lifeguards were typically 6' plus and near 200 pounds of muscle. Even more so we were the sons of Police Officers and even a few FBI agents. We all were on our way to college, had a smattering of Spanish, Puerto Rican dialects, and we walked alone down the beach watching the folks.

We never really had fights, there were no police on the beach but we walked with an oxygen tank, a heavy green thing, which I guess made us look a bit in control. We had orange and green bathing suits and tops with numbers.

The "better" life guards were assigned to the beach, second place went to pools. But we did have losses in life, some people drank a bit too much and then went in the water, then under. I recall possibly two or three losses each summer. On the other hand we had many rescues, cramps, poor swimmers, and the like.

Thus it is somewhat surprising to see these problems. We had a Chief Lifeguard, an older gentleman, Lou Lipke if I recall, who trained us on what to expect. But we had respect because we mingled with the people. One on the lifeguard chair looking an the rest of us walking amongst the crowds. It was as if we became "beat cops" knowing the people, week after week, and if I recall we never had a serious problem.

Perhaps the training has gone by the wayside, perhaps the lifeguards are different. But perhaps it is just the newness of the situation. Hopefully it will calm down again. The pools were as important as the beaches.

But looking back we had lifeguards from the community. We knew many of the folks, and yes there were trouble makers, but they could be controlled. There were lots of us, and yes the pay was not much. But the guys were a great team.