GALILEE – It has become a mainstay at southern Rhode Island beaches for more than 30 years.
Every year in early August, teams of lifeguards from beaches such as Narragansett, Scarborough, Westerly and East Matunuck come together for the annual Rhode Island Lifeguard Tournament, a weeklong competition in a series of events that test and showcase the lifeguarding skills.
When longtime organizer Jeff Linehan stepped aside after last year, however, the tournament was in limbo before David Hoffer, a veteran lifeguard at a number of area beaches for nearly as long as the tournament itself has been around, stepped up to make sure the tradition continued.
“Nobody really wanted to do it,” Hoffer said. “I’ve helped Jeff out in the past when he needed people to score and that kind of thing, and I’ve worked at almost every beach in the state as a guard for about 30 years. “…so I said I would help out and ‘help out’ turned into [overseeing the tournament].”
Though he has the notoriety of being in charge, Hoffer is quick to credit all involved for making sure the tradition of the tournament continued this summer.
While he oversees to make sure all the work gets done, each of the beaches involved is responsible for hosting one night of games and handling the competition from that night’s events.
“By-and-large the captains have run each night,” Hoffer said. “The captains are in charge of setting the courses, making sure the safety crew is out there and everything. All I do, really, is oversee the nights and tally up the points. If there’s any disputes, I’ll settle the disputes.
“...The nuts and bolts I do, but the safety and the organizing of the beach races and courses are up to the captains.”
It is that sort of group effort from members of every beach that is at the core of the importance of the tournament’s tradition.
More so than the games themselves and the test of proving which beach has the best lifeguards, the continued growth of the fraternity of lifeguards is what truly makes the annual tournament such a key fixture in South County.
“To use a cliché, it’s sort of the changing of the guard. The old-timers, we like to see the young kids get involved,” Hoffer said. “It’s nice to just still be a part of it. I lifeguarded for 30 years and I see guys on our team, the old timers team, [who have] started guarding again. To see him up on the tower with his son, it’s a nice way to keep a tie to what we did when we were younger and it’s nice to see the kids getting involved.
“It’s a nostalgic time for me because I remember being 18 and doing this. …It’s become a bigger event than it was back then and it’s nice to see such a big crowd. There weren’t crowds like this when we were doing it. We just want it to continue as long as it’s going to continue.”
Wednesday night it was Roger Wheeler State Beach in Galilee’s turn to host in the third of the six nights of competition.
As they have been known to do for the better part of this millennium, the team from Narragansett Town Beach found itself at the top of the six-team field with 94 points coming into the night, 24 in front of second place Westerly.
Leads the beaches only extended by finishing first in the men’s and women’s races, respectively, of the night’s lead event, the King and Queen Neptune.
“It encompasses all of the skills,” said Hoffer of the grueling event, in which he competed for the Old Timers team. “It’s rowing, paddling, swimming, running. We added kayaking this year. It’s not necessarily the one star athlete, it’s the guy who can do all the stuff.”
Former Narragansett High standout Luca Spinazzola was crowned King Neptune for the second straight year, blowing away the rest of the field for the Town Beach win, while Westerly’s Katie Mangano, a former URI swimmer, came from behind on the final, rowing leg for the Queen’s crown.
The competition continued on Thursday at Second Beach in Middletown with the four-man rescue, kayak relay and open swim relays (results unavailable at time of press.)
Tonight the guards return to Narragansett as Scarborough will host the men’s and women’s medley relays and men’s and women’s torpedo relays before the tournament comes to a close on Saturday at East Matunuck with the unassisted rescue, paddle rescue, women’s swim relay and tug-o-war events.
Competitions on both days start at approximately 6:45 p.m.