By Kailey Aiken
Memorial Day weekend marked the start of another summer season for Rockaway Beach lifeguards, and these past two weeks have already proven that our summer is going to be a little different than usual. Of course, construction on the rock jetties has, unfortunately, resulted in beach closures across the peninsula, and the shortage of lifeguards is still being felt. Many lifeguards have been temporarily transferred to new shacks that have more beaches open in an attempt to cover for the shortage while we all wait patiently for the new class of horns (rookies) to arrive.
Aside from beach closures, this past Wednesday unveiled a brand-new obstacle for us lifeguards: smoke! Heavy smoke from Canadian wildfires infiltrated Rockaway, leaving our beaches with a yellow haze, post-apocalyptic movie filtered look. While on the chair, some lifeguards donned masks while others tied their shirts around their nose and mouth, attempting to avoid breathing in the smoke. The fumes were so strong you could taste the smoke if you opened your mouth. Thankfully, around 3 p.m., the beaches were closed due to the hazardous conditions and remained closed the following day while the smoke made its way out of Rockaway.
On Saturday, lifeguards were called off the chair around 4 p.m., but this time, it was due to a shark sighting. Once the water was cleared, lifeguards and patrons gathered on the shoreline of Beach 98th Street for a SeaWorld-worthy performance of a pod of dolphins jumping and feeding and a whale breaching right off the rock jetty. Last summer, shark sightings became more common as the season went on, and it looks like we could be dealing with the same thing this year. But the ocean is home to the sharks after all, and there’s not much we can do other than keep people out of the water for a while when we know the sharks are nearby. Marine life in general has been a common sighting so far this year, with dolphins and whales passing by almost daily in some spots.
Although the water is clearly warm enough for the dolphins, whales, and sharks to come by, it has still yet to really warm up for many beachgoers to enjoy. There have, of course, been those who decided to brave the cold… and a few lifeguards who have had to brave the cold unintendedly. Guards in the 86 and 106 shacks have already had multiple cases in which they were able to successfully return the victims to safety.
Softball Mondays were set to start up this past week, but rain in the evening resulted in a cancellation. Midtown currently holds the 2022 champion title and golden buoy, but hopefully 117 won’t let them keep it for another year. Maybe Downtown and Uptown will put up a good fight too this year! The Shack Olympics are also set to return for the second summer in a row, a tradition that hadn’t happened for a while before last year. Shack 117 won the overall Olympics last year in a face-off with 73, and I’m sure it could happen again. Hopefully the other shacks are training!
All in all, there’s nothing better than a summer spent on the beach in Rockaway, and the lifeguards are happy to be back.
Photo by Amber Walters