Main Beach Mantra

Written By: Jennifer Conway


The summer of 2008 is on my list of one of the best summers. My oldest son, Sean, graduated from high school as an honor student, was accepted to Stony Brook University, made their Div. 1 swim team, passed the ocean lifeguard test and was hired by the Town of Islip to work on the Fire Island beaches. Of course for him, the cherry on the top of the cake was when the head chief of the lifeguards asked him to join their competition team! I was so happy for him about all his achievements with the exception of one. Ocean Lifeguard – being a natural born worrier I’m thinking riptides, jellyfish and SHARKS! But Sean’s 18 years old now and my new mantra for him is “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine!”, so let the summer begin.

Their first lifeguard competition that summer was against the East Hampton and Smith Point lifeguards at Main Beach, East Hampton. It was a Tuesday night – to start around 6:00 pm.   They’d been training for a few weeks and he was psyched, excited and nervous all at the same time on that morning. In the early afternoon, the weather had taken a turn for the worst. The sky had turned dark, with stormy clouds hanging low and the wind had picked up. By 3:00pm I had already called him twice to see if the competition was still on. I kept thinking (and hoping) it would be cancelled due to the weather. I had left work early but was running a little late. On top of that I hit a line of traffic! (It’s Tuesday, why are these people on the road heading out east!?) I couldn’t help myself; I called him again to let him know I might be late. I hear the strain in his voice as he tries to be patient, “Yes, the competition is still on. If you can’t make it in time for the start from work, that’s ok”. (I can literally see his eyes rolling as he’s talking!) I remind myself, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine” and concentrate on getting to Main Beach.

I finally find the small parking field for Main Beach and am rushing because it’s now after 6pm and I don’t want to miss his events. As I turn the corner from the parking field I realize that roar I’ve been hearing is the surf pounding onto the shore. I literally am stopped in my tracks by the view that greets me. The waves have to be at least 10 feet tall and the wind has picked up. The water is a dark gray to match the sky. The pavilion which has that beached Hampton look of gray cedar shingles with white trim even looks dark and deserted. A mist is coming in off the ocean and it’s gotten cold and damp. The beach is empty except for the lifeguard teams and the few spectators who have come to support them. In fact, the whole picture reminds me of an old black and white movie when the director is setting the scene for something ominous to happen. I spot Sean piling some gear on the benches near the pavilion. I tell myself put on your happy, yeah-team face and remember my mantra, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine”.

They don’t have a lot of time to think about the weather conditions. The Chief lifeguards are barking orders to get the equipment in order and ready. They meet some of the other lifeguards from the East Hampton and Shirley teams. They both have very competitive teams and good standings in this league. There are 5 events: Surf Swim, Beach Run, Run-Swim-Run, Landline Rescue and Beach Flag. Sean will be in 2 events, the 1st event is the Surf Swim, which is a 400 meter swim around 2 buoys set out into the water.   Everyone starts at the same time and just swims their hardest to get in the front. The whistle starts the race and he is off running into the surf and diving under the waves. The surf was so strong and the current is pushing the swimmers to the left of the 1st buoy. This meant they had to back track to pass on the correct side of it. I’m trying to keep my eyes on Sean which is hard to do as they get further from shore. He’s swimming hard and trying not to take in a lot of water, but the waves are hitting him right in the face on the first leg. He makes the turn around the 1st buoy and now is going with the current. I catch my breath and relax a little knowing that he’s swimming back to shore. Once he is close to shore and stands to run past the finish line I see that his legs are wobbly. After he passes the finish line I see him go to the side and just sink down and kneel on the sand trying to catch his breath. One of the older lifeguards on the team comes over and pats his back, telling him “good job!”  As he looks toward me, I give him a big smile and the thumbs up sign. What I want to do is go over, wrap him in a warm towel, and give him some water and a big hug. But he would be mortified, so I stay put and remind myself again “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine”

As we wait for his next event I talk to some of the other parents who are there, get a hot chocolate to warm up and cheer on his team in the other events. Finally he is getting ready for his 2nd race, Run-Swim-Run, an endurance event in which the swimmers run 200 hundred yards down the beach, swim 400 yards and then run another 200 yards to cross the finish line. I keep my fingers crossed that he’ll do well because I know he wants to improve his standing from the 1st race. It may be my imagination, but I think the waves have gotten bigger and as the race starts I find myself holding my breath. Sean runs further down the beach than he has to, but now when he runs into the water the 1st buoy is to his left and the current is pushing him towards it instead of past it. He is swimming hard and when he runs out of the water to run the last 200 yards I see his chest heaving and his legs straining to carry him across the finish line. Instead of stopping after passing the line he runs past his teammates and again sinks to the ground, but this time he is crouched over heaving from all the salt water he swallowed. Again he looks towards where I’m standing, but I look the other way pretending to cheer on the rest of the swimmers. (There are just some things a young man doesn’t want his mother to see.) I close my eyes and just keep repeating to myself, “Don’t worry and pray he’ll be fine”.


Finally the competition is over and Sean had a great standing for his first meet. He finished in the top 10 for his 1st event and 6th in the second, earning points for his team. Islip didn’t win, East Hampton, the home team won the overall competition, but that’s fine. As everyone is packing up to go home and the adrenaline is gone I can see how tired and sore Sean is. My mind is trying to remember that I’m not to worry and he’ll be fine, but I can’t hear it over my heart shouting at me to go give him a hug!  Before I realize it, I’m walking towards him and when he turns to me I just give him a great big hug and kiss on the side of the face. I hold on for a little bit, just so my heart can feel better and when I let go I give him a “Great race, see you at home”. I turn quickly back towards the water (tear are not cool) and look down the beach. It definitely was not the perfect beach day, but I can see that someday it would be nice to come back to Main Beach, East Hampton. I’m sure on a sunny day, with the water and sky a bright blue and the surf hitting the shore calmly it would be very peaceful and relaxing.  In fact, I could see it as a perfect backdrop for a story of how a mother finally admits that her heart will always win over her mind when it comes to her children – no matter how many times she repeats her mantra! This time I remind myself, “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine!”