“After the beach and the ocean, the lifeguards are the most important part of our community,” said Martin Weinstein, a home owner at Sea Del Estates. “They are friendly, courteous and, most important, they make us feel secure.”
For five years, the North Bethany Beach Patrol (NBBP), under the overall management of Aquatic-Marine LLC, has been responsible for the safety of most of the 3.5-mile stretch of private beach communities between Bethany Beach and the state park at Indian River. It was Aquatic-Marine’s Mike Jandzen who coined the term “North Bethany,” to encompass the separate communities that previously had disparate or non-existent beach patrol coverage.
“Each year, we have grown in strength and stature,” said Jandzen, who has more than 30 years of lifeguarding and lifeguarding management experience in the area.
Steve O’Boyle, who is in his second year as beach patrol captain, worked with several other local beach patrols for many years before coming to NBBP. He was overall individual winner of the recent Eastern Shore Triathlon series against approximately 500 competitors and is renowned and respected throughout the area as an athlete and a teacher.
“Our patrol is different this year,” said O’Boyle. “With Bailey Noel as our lieutenant and Jeremy Brown as crew chief, there’s a lot of experience and credibility at the top. When I’m not here, either of them is very comfortable taking over the role of captain. This is particularly important as we have a fair number of young guards on our patrol.”
They may be young, but each of the lifeguards is handpicked and personally known by either O’Boyle or Noel and had to pass a rigorous screening process.
O’Boyle is an art teacher, as well as head coach for swimming and track-and-field at Sussex Central High School in Georgetown. Noel is head swim coach at Seaford High School.
“Our young guards are committed athletes,” said O’Boyle. “During the high school or college year, they swim two to three hours every day in practice. And, often, on their own unpaid time, they are here on the beach training at 7:30 a.m.”
Indeed, it is an unusual fact that every single member of NBBP has a Sussex County mailing address. While some patrols have recruitment pipelines that stretch across the ocean, O’Boyle is pleased that NBBP’s feeder system is Sussex County public schools and previous pool lifeguarding experience with Aquatic-Marine.
“When I recruit, I look for athleticism first. If you’re having trouble in the water, you want someone who can run and swim really fast to get to you. Then I look for a commitment to education and professional growth. Lastly, I want team players. Being a member of a beach patrol may be a fun way to spend a summer, but being ready to work as a team to save a life at any moment is serious business,” said O’Boyle.
Being a team player comes naturally for six members of NBBP. As sets of siblings, they have been supporting and competing with each other forever. For example, Zach and Matt Jenney competed, like O’Boyle, in the recent Eastern Shore Triathlon. Each came second in their age range. Noel’s brother Spencer is on the patrol. And Dustin and Paige Venables are a brother-sister duo.
Both O’Boyle and Jandzen said their working lives on the beach have been made much easier by the generosity of Ted and Cindy Hart, who have allowed their house to be used as the headquarters for the lifeguards.
Beach patrol competitive spirit was set to be in full view on Wednesday, June 30, when for the first time, NBBP would host a major lifeguarding competition: the Ironman Relays. Each event consists of a different combination of running, paddling and swimming, and each team must include at least one female.
O’Boyle noted that, while there is a certain amount of bragging rights involved, everyone knows that the purpose of the competitions is primarily to increase the lifesaving competencies of the participating patrols.
Weinstein said he is pleased his community has given permission for the gates to be opened to the public for the event.
“As I see it, we have a front-row seat to watch phenomenal athletes engage in great competition,” he said.
Anticipating their first Ironman competition are new guards Phillip Demott and Zach Cain. Both swam for Seaford High School and both agreed that they love what they’re doing – but the workouts have been much harder than they expected.
Emily Sanders is a second-year lifeguard and one of NBBP’s four women guards. She attends Sussex Central and participates in swimming, field hockey, cross-country and track.
“I’ve improved so much since last year,” she said, adding how proud she is to be among dedicated people who love good leadership.
As for O’Boyle, he is a teacher.
“Whether at school or on the beach, it’s what I do,” he said.
It seems the communities north of Bethany Beach couldn’t ask for more.
The area’s next lifeguard competition will be on Wednesday, July 7, at 6 p.m. at Sea Colony.