If the parades and fireworks haven’t provided enough Independence Day fun for 2014, Fenwick Island will offer the chance for people to spend some time with family and friends during the holiday weekend, at the town’s annual Bonfire.
Fenwick Island’s 10th annual Bonfire will take place on Saturday, July 5, from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on the beach at Dagsboro Street, with a rain date of Sunday, July 6.
“It’s something where all the neighbors can come to see each other, and all the visitors, as well,” said Liz Lear, a member of the Fenwick Island Beach Committee, which organizes the event.
The bonfire is free to all visitors and locals who would like to attend. Throughout the night, there will be games for the kids, as well as dancing to music provided by D.J. Batman.
“While it’s light, there are lots and lots of games for the children, and the lifeguards are the ones that organize the games for the kids. That’s really, really fun,” said Lear, noting that there are a half-dozen games planned, ranging from relay races to three-legged races.
“We give out glow sticks that the children can wear. When it starts getting dark, even the adults want to wear them. By the time it’s dark, you see all these people with glow sticks wrapped around their arms, necks, ankles… It’s just a fabulous sight on the beach.”
Lear said that each year the event grows, drawing more people who enjoy the fun festivities.
“We’ve estimated that, last year, we had roughly about 1,000 people,” she said.
T-shirts will be for sale, and there will also be a silent auction on the beach, offering attendees the chance to take home official Fenwick Island Beach Patrol swag — from bathing suits to sweatsuits to hats.
“People really want them,” said Lear.
The bonfire is provided; but those who wish to eat alongside the flames should bring their own food and beverages.
“Each year, people have learned that they have to bring a really long stick to toast their marshmallows or whatever they’re going to cook on the bonfire. People come down with their beach chairs, sit around and have a great evening.” (The size of the bonfire should not be underestimated — the longer the stick, the better, for your marshmallow-roasting pleasure.)
“Fenwick is just that kind of a place — a family-friendly place,” Lear added. “It’s just who we are. We hope everyone comes out and has a good time.”
For first-timers, don’t worry — there will be lights on the beach, so that everyone will be able to see after sunset.
“When it gets dark and all those people are on the beach, the fire’s going and all the glow sticks are going — it’s just an amazing sight. It truly is.”
The bonfire event was originally created to help raise funds for the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol (FIBP), to help offset costs of different activities and events the patrol is involved with — most notably, regional and national lifeguard competitions.
“Sometimes it can get very expensive traveling to the various places in the country where they hold the national lifeguard championships,” said FIBP Capt. Tim Ferry, who’s been running the patrol for 11 years. “Last year, we were in Manhattan Beach, Calif.”
Currently the FIBP has 30 guards, 12 of whom were in the FIBP’s Junior Lifeguard Program.
“That has really taken off. It has grown every year,” said Ferry of the youth program. “We have an advanced group that takes them to about 15 or 16, and I can hire them at 16. I have watched them progress on the beach.”
Ferry said that, aside from the physical skills necessary to guard, he looks for guards who understand the responsibility that comes along with the job.
“We take a lot of pride in the job that we do out there,” he said. “They really take their job seriously. They know how to do that, as well as have fun at the same time. They’re motivated to do that, so they push one and other in a great way. It makes my job that much easier when I have a group of young men and women who take this type of approach to the job. They’re just a great group of kids and lifeguards.”
Ferry said the patrol has grown during his tenure, in both numbers and responsibilities.
“As the patrol grew, the patrol has expanded, not only in size but in our responsibilities on the beach. As we have done that, all the training regiments, protocols and policies that we have put in place, the standards that we have, are very high. We’ve just taken great strides over the years to provide the Town of Fenwick with the best possible trained lifeguards that we can.
“The results have been fantastic,” he added. “Not only do we have a great lifeguarding staff, but our training regimen prepares them physically to compete not only at the regional but at the national level. In these 10 years, we’ve won three national championships. I think that’s a direct result of our hard work and level of expectations.”
A local competition was created to include both male and female guards, explained Ferry, and to give all guards the opportunity to compete in a friendly manner.
“We started a local competition series about 15 years ago. Bethany, Middlesex, Sea Colony, Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach — they all hold one. It gives the lifeguards the opportunity to hone their skills,” Ferry noted. “There are different events — running events, swimming events, paddling events. Most of them mirror the types of events they’ll see at the regional events, as well as at the nationals.”
After the local competition, the winners move on to the U.S. Lifesaving Association regional competition, where they compete again guards from New York to Virginia. Ferry said the regionals are typically the qualifying competition for the nationals, which include guards from all over the country.
This year, the USLA National Lifeguard Championships will be held in Virginia Beach, Va., in August.
“Guards from L.A. County to Boca Raton, to Jones Beach,” he said. “You’re talking about over 1,000 competitors. For our patrol to do some of the things they have done on the regional and national stage, they really deserve a lot of accolades. They work their butts off in the morning and during the day to prepare themselves mentally and physically.”
Even though the FIBP has received three national titles, Ferry said his guards have always focused on their main responsibility — protecting those who are enjoying Fenwick Island’s beach.
“There’s a certain level of pride that we take in our accomplishments, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that they are great lifeguards first, great competitors second.”
Ferry said that the patrol would not be what it is without the ongoing support of the Town.
“The Town of Fenwick has been absolutely phenomenal. They bought into the program that we started here and the quality of service that we needed and wanted to provide to the town. They have been behind us every step of the way,” he said. “With the help of the Beach Committee and the bonfire, it has allowed us to take our lifeguards to that next level and compete.”
Ferry said his guards always enjoy participating in the bonfire, as it is representative of the town, its residents and visitors.
“It’s just really a neat and unique event that the Town has put on. It has gotten bigger and bigger but has really stayed a family event. It fits perfectly with the Quiet Resorts character and providing a great outlet for the kids and the adults.”
Ferry added that the bonfire is a great time for all who attend and provides an opportunity for the lifeguards and beachgoers to get to know each other.
“The bonfire is a great way to interact with the beach patrons, whether they’re visitors or transients. It’s a great family event,” said Ferry. “Our lifeguards are involved with it. They run the games for the kids. We maintain the bonfire. We provide items for the auction. It’s just a really well-rounded family event that has continued to grow every year, just like our patrol.”
Fenwick Island Beach Patrol lifeguards will be guarding Fenwick Island beaches seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Labor Day, and on the two weekends after.