My name is Adrienne Bilello, and I am on the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol. I have grown up in South Jersey, Medford to be exact, most of my life and going to Wildwood Crest has always been a part of my life. Water has also played a big role in my life due to the fact that I have been a competitive swimmer since the age of 7. I now swim division 1 at Iona College in New York. My events include the mile, 500 free, and 200 butterfly. I am going into my senior year at Iona, I am currently studying psychology with a minor in mass communications. After Iona I plan to go into sports psychology, and hopefully work by a beach

Wildwood Crest is where I have spent every summer since I was born, so it only made sense to guard the beach that I love most. Ever since I was a newborn baby, the ocean has been a part of my life. I was fortunate to have grandparents that always had a summer home in Wildwood Crest, so I spent my summers swimming, surfing, and admiring the lifeguards that worked on my beach. There was one I was particularly close with, Chris Gamble, a more senior guard but also a swim coach. Gamble would meet with me in the mornings when I was 14 and teach me tips on how to swim open water. He taught me how to sight, how to grab sand when I surf dashed under waves to anchor myself, and even to keep a little bit of ocean water in my goggles for built in windshield wipers when they fog up. I could not wait to be a lifeguard. Unfortunately, I had club swimming every summer in highschool, so I could not join the patrol at the typical age of 16. The summer after my first year in college, however, I was the first one to sign up.

The very first thing that I was taught in rookie school was that we are to “respect the ocean”. The ocean does not care how good a swimmer or surfer you are, because in a fight, the ocean will always win. This is why we are taught to be “preventative” lifeguards, by avoiding the situation before it’s too late. I learned how to spot a rip current and how the currents change with the tides. Learning about the ocean not only made me a better guard, but a better competitor.

The surf and rescue competitions are one of my favorite things about this job. I have competed in ocean races since the age of 9, so all of my experience and knowledge of the ocean gave me a leg up in the competition. The rescue board competitions were new to me however, but because of my surfing experience, that came easy to me as well.

A race where ocean knowledge played a big role was the Cape May Point Women’s Challenge. This race consisted of a soft sand run, followed by a paddle, and finished with a swim. What made this race extra difficult was the location. Cape May Point is known for having extreme currents, which can either make or break an entire race. Going into this race I was hoping to get top 10 because I was not the best runner, but because I knew how to work the current in the paddle I ended up going into the swim with a 30 second lead on the girl in second, and as a rookie I won the race.

This job has also brought me the closest friends I will have in my life. When you sit on a stand with the same person everyday for 7 hours, a special type of bond is made. You also see the regular beach walkers where a simple smile one day turns into an hour conversation the next. And then there is Tony, the seagull that the patrol has domesticated to fly to every stand because he knows he will get fed. At the end of every summer I dread leaving my friends, my beach walkers, my seagull, and my tan. I often find myself scrolling through old guarding pictures in the dead of winter when I’m at
school, but thats how you know its special. On your last day you can’t stop thinking about the first day of next summer.

My rookie year I experienced my very first rescue. It was a really hot day and my stand partner and I were listening to music and chatting about the normal things. All of a sudden my partner goes “oh we are going in!” as she is stripping her hat and sunglasses off. I scan the water and see a father clutching his daughter with fear in both their eyes as they are being sucked out into a rip current. The adrenaline pumping through my veins, I jump off the chair and surf dash out to where the victims are. Once I got there my stand partner had taken the little girl, and I gave the father my torpedo buoy. He was out of breath, but so thankful that we were there. In that moment you realize how important your job is.

Advice to Women: There is no hiding that this job industry is heavily dominated by men, that is why I find it so important for little girls to see females guarding their beach. This job is unlike other male dominated jobs because there is a physical fitness aspect to it, but hey, it’s not that hard to keep up with the boys, and the taste is even sweeter when you can prove that you are their equal or better. There will always be men that make comments about “baywatch” or “hoping to get saved”, but those comments fade when they see you spring into action and save a life. Women can do anything that men can, and we can do it while in a bikini.

Images Provided by Adrienne Bilello.