My name is Anne Skimmons and I was born and raised in Point Pleasant, New Jersey to parents who taught me about the ocean from an early age. My mother grew up at the beach and was a lifeguard and competitor for Spring Lake Beach Patrol. She was the one who taught me how to love the beach, ride waves, and respect the sea. I was enrolled in Junior Lifeguards in Sea Girt at the age of eight, and from there lifesaving became an inherent part of my life. My father is the owner of Divers Two, a SCUBA facility located in Avon, New Jersey. I grew up holding “bugs,” wearing dive gear with my brother, and learning about the water from the perspective of SCUBA. From the day I was born, I was bred to be in the ocean.

I was a competitive swimmer my entire life, graduating Monmouth University in 2018 while swimming four years Division 1. Swimming was a passion of mine but being confined to a pool never satisfied me as much as being in the ocean. Since my first day at Junior Guards, I knew I wanted to be a lifeguard. Sixteen years later, I am twenty-four years old and a ninth-year lifeguard at Sea Girt Beach Patrol.

My passion for lifesaving and the ocean not only comes from my parents, but from my Jr. Guard instructors as a child. I learned to paddle, use a torp, make rescues, and compete in tournaments. Later, my colleagues helped teach me along the way in the professional field. I learned to refine rescues, use equipment, and approach patrons and situations with confidence. I believe I developed lifelong skills that I could not have elsewhere. Above that, Sea Girt Lifeguard Chief Tim Harmon taught me the value of the job as a lifeguard, and I certainly would not be the guard I am now without his guidance, instruction, and endless support.

My gender never defined me on the beach. The challenges I faced in lifesaving came from myself. I felt a lot of pressure growing up in sports and in school, and naturally it transferred to how seriously I took my job. Sure, I am a woman, but I can spot trouble in the ocean with the best and can get out there faster than most of the men. I fine-tuned my craft, if you will. I took courses about the ocean in college to better understand currents and surf, developed my senior thesis around rip current awareness, trained alongside the men in international competition, and learned everything I could to be the best lifeguard I could be; regardless of my gender.

When I started in lifesaving, namely competition, my favorite event was the American Ironwoman. The race consisted of a run, swim, and paddle. The men’s race was the same except it included a row. In 2016 I won the original American Ironwoman at USLA Nationals. That winter, a group of strong women called for equality in racing. Fast forward to the summer of 2017, I once again won the American Ironwoman; and it included the row. The ladies in the race alongside me proved to everyone that we are just as strong, if not stronger.

One rescue that I will never forget was the first one I made. I was sixteen years old and I was on the army camp that day in Sea Girt, Lifeguard Stand 11. I remember my stand mates for that day, and exactly how the bright sun glinted off the turbulent ocean moments before a little girl dipped under a wave on the shoreline and popped up in the middle of an ugly rip current. The speed at which she was sucked out was shocking, but without hesitation my older stand mate told me to go, and I was off running. Everything about it was how I was taught. I told her she would be okay with a big smile, wrapped her up, and brought her in. When her mother ran down and hugged her daughter, I realized the significance of what I had done. Yes, I had done what I was trained to do, but I saved a child and brought her back safely to her family. This was the pivotal moment in my life when I knew that I was meant to be part of the Lifesaving Service.

Images provided by Anne Skimmons.