The 2017 South Atlantic Regional Lifeguard Championships

2017 ocean rescue championships

“You are now in the hands of the starter.” Then the siren sounds and you are off! In the hunt for oceanic glory and power, there is an elite class of beach lifeguards that challenge their lifesaving skills in mind and body through competition. Last week I had the honor to compete for Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue in the 2017 South Atlantic Regional Lifeguard Championships in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Here, over 200 beach lifeguards from every ocean rescue organization from Virginia Beach, VA to Ponte Vedra Beach, FL converged on 200 yards of beach strand to compete in lifesaving related events, including swimming, running, surf skiing, and rescue paddle boarding. These disciplines were broken into 12 individual and team events staggered over a two-day period.  

2017 Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Competition

The 2017 Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Competition Team. Top left to right: Sean Ruttkay, Jack DeVries, Luke Hammond, Seamus Donahue, Will Owens, Michel Heijnen. Bottom left to right: Mo Peacock. Thalia Harrison, Ana Fish, Kayra DeMarte, Kristi Falco, Hunter Hay.

Of these 12 grueling endeavors, my personal favorite was the Open Men’s International Ironman event, an intense endurance event which consists of a 600-yard paddle, followed by a 400-yard swim, a 1000 yard surf-ski (like a skinny boat), and finally a 200-yard beach sprint. This epic event is always saved for the end of the two-day competition to ensure that all the competitors are exhausted and fully gassed. To add to the exhaustion, the surf was 4-6 ft. (head high) which added many new layers of uncertainty due to the increased chance that competitors could get blasted by the surf on the way out or gain a significant lead by catching swells on the way into the beach. This swell variable graced the haul of my surf ski during this very event this year and it was one of the coolest moments of my life. Way out the back, as I turned the apex buoy, I began to feel the slight lift of the stern and then knew I was tapping into a ground swell. Feeling the energy take hold I began to paddle with intense speed. Then, synergy was gained and my craft lifted and effortlessly glided on the swell in the open ocean 500 yards off shore without a stroke. Completely mesmerized by this phenomenon I began flying past competitors and I almost neglected to realize the last buoy that needed to be turned to my right. Coming back to the realities of course markings, I jammed down the foot pedal sending the ski sharply to the left and dug the paddle on the same side of the wave so not to flip the craft. At speeds consistent with a full 10 sec period swell the fiberglass boat made a slight “bong” sound as it hit and cleared the orange buoy. On course and shocked as to how the race can flow, the ski took one more wave to the beach and gliding through the flags I received sixth place overall out of the thirty some competitors.  

But to the heart, finish place was meaningless. What mattered most was the feeling of complete physical exertion achieved through the medium of the sea. Sure, winning feels good but realizing true glory only comes when the element of water is synthesized with mind and body to achieve extreme physical oceanic pleasure. When this joy is found, the individual taps into a high bliss state.  

The question is then, how can you experience a level of this bliss state? It is of my opinion that all encounters with water have their place on the spectrum of water induced bliss. For example, an individual who is at their office desk and sticks their fingertips in a cup of ice water is low on the spectrum (but still achieving a level of water induced bliss). An individual who may be surfing a 20-foot wave off the coast of France receives a higher level of water induced bliss due to his chosen physical water action. The take-home message being, regardless of the type of water engagement you choose, the more times you can interact with water in a given day, the better your chances of achieving a blissful state and thus a happier life. So remember…engage water in your physical world, then ‘Water the Wall’.

– Ruttkay / @edasurf
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