Avalon lifeguard Bill Kelly sat on his stand late Monday morning, watching the choppy waters, the overcast skies and the few beachgoers in the knee-deep water.
For Kelly, 20, a five-year lifeguard, Labor Day entailed an eight-hour shift, a quick stop at his home in the Rio Grande section of Middle Township, and a nighttime drive to Rowan University, where the accounting student begins class today.
“I stay because they can use the people, I can use the money and I’m close enough that I can make the commute in a day,” he said.
For South Jersey beach patrols such as Avalon’s, lifeguard ranks begin to thin by mid-August as more guards head back to colleges, sports camps and careers.
Thus it becomes important for beach patrols to keep track of who they expect to have available by Labor Day, and more so for those towns that will guard beaches during the next week or longer. Often, beach patrols will be active but guarding fewer beaches than during the height of summer.
“We’ll try to keep as many beaches as we can this coming week. That will depend entirely on how much staff we have,” said Avalon Beach Patrol Lt. Erich Wolf, a special education teacher in Cumberland County.
In Avalon, the beaches will be guarded through Sunday.
The borough offers bonuses to lifeguards who work past Aug. 15, and is flexible with providing some time away for family vacations or sports camps during July and early August so long as lifeguards work later in the season, Avalon Beach Patrol Captain Murray Wolf said.
For some shore towns, Labor Day was the end of guarded beaches for the year.
Ventnor Beach Patrol Lt. Woody Ferry said Labor Day has been the end of the guard season for the past few years.
“It’s a combination of manpower and the budget,” he said. “We just don’t have anybody around and we don’t have much left.”
Wildwood Beach Patrol Chief Steven Stocks said the city will be guarding four beaches through the week, and then guarding all beaches next weekend.
“When August starts to roll around, you start asking the guards when their last day of eligibility is. ... Because it’s a system we’ve been doing for a long time, you just have to look at it early, and maybe once in a while you have to twist a few arms,” he said.
Stocks urged bathers to swim only at guarded beaches, ones where lifeguards are on duty.
Back in Avalon, Kelly was prepared for a quick return to college once his shift ended.
He packed his college needs the day before and needed only to stop back home and then to get gasoline before expecting to return to college around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on Monday.
“It’s weird to sit up here and know I have class tomorrow,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s over, because you’re still working and it hasn’t stopped yet.”
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