Three all-female beach patrol events will be held on consecutive days this week, starting today with the Longport Women's Lifeguard Invitational at 6:30 p.m. on the 33rd Avenue beach.
That's significant considering that there were no women's-only lifeguard events in the area before 1995.
The Cape May Point Women's Lifeguard Challenge, a run-paddleboard-swim triathlon, will be held Wednesday at St. Pete's Beach in Cape May Point.
The Surf City Epic Women's Lifeguard Tournament takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday at the 5th Street beach in Surf City on Long Beach Island. The Epic Tournament, now in its ninth year, was previously a coed event that included mostly men.
Women's lifeguarding is increasing, and not just in competitions. When Longport Beach Patrol Chief Dan Adams started in 1985, there were three women on the patrol, and that number has grown to 13.
The Longport Invitational is in its 15th year and most of the beach patrols in the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association will send at least a partial squad.
"The women on the beach patrols train hard and do their job well, so it's important to have women's races to show their abilities," Adams said. "The crowds they draw for the women's races are comparable to the men's races. We started our event (in 1998) with the (five) Atlantic County patrols and one extra. We kept adding teams, and then it was everybody (in South Jersey was invited)."
Many female lifeguards in the area also are outstanding high school or college athletes. Most are swimmers or rowers.
"The (women's) competitions are excellent," Longport Beach Patrol Capt. Matt Kelm said. "The races are fun, but they're an extension of what the women do on the job. They're all tremendous athletes and positive role models for girls on the beach."
The fifth annual Cape May Point Women's Lifeguard Challenge is partially patterned after the Cape May Beach Patrol Superathlon.
"It's definitely not a quick-and-done race and it takes endurance," said Kristen Moorby, a Cape May Point senior lifeguard and the Challenge race director. "It will showcase some pretty strong girls. People will be safe with them on the beach."
Kerry Choplin of Cape May won the race last year and teammate Meghan O'Leary was second. Two from each patrol can enter, and Choplin and O'Leary easily won the team title. Both are entered Wednesday, along with 15 others from a total of eight patrols.
Tonight's Longport Women's Lifeguard Invitational has five races - the doubles row, the swim, the singles row, the paddleboard race, and the four-person surf dash. Ocean City won the team title last year.
The Epic Women's Tournament will have six competitors from each participating patrol. The Long Beach Island teams are Surf City, Harvey Cedars, Barnegat Light and Ship Bottom. Three northern patrols also are entered. The races include the four-person swim relay, the four-person paddle relay, the line race and the medley relay.
Surf City Patrol Capt. Mark Dileo said, "Women are really coming into their own in terms of ocean lifeguarding. When I started guarding over 25 years ago, I think we had two or three women on a squad of 34 guards, and two of those women only worked on the bay.
"Today I have 11 women on the squad and they are among my best swimmers. I really wanted to give them another opportunity to compete, which is why the Epic tournament is a women's tournament this year."
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