My name is Jenna Carbin and I started lifeguarding at the age of 16 and continued that seasonal job on the Spring Lake Bach Patrol in New Jersey for 11 Years. I grew up in Neptune New Jersey, going to Manasquan beach every summer as a child until age 12, then moved to Spring Lake Beach due to my mom’s job change. In the summer of 2008 I became one of the Lifeguards of Spring Lake’s Ocean Rescue Patrol. I am the daughter of Janet Carbin who has been a great inspiration and reason why I was driven to the ocean. I have grown up on the sea because of her my world has been expanded greatly due to the opportunities provided to me. I was able to become aware of so much more when it came to safety in the water and on the sand from my childhood being surrounded by the environment of lifeguards. I was always a little bit of a hesitant child, but when I was in the salt water I felt like I could soar on the waves when I rode them due to Janet’s guidance and encouragement. I grew up surrounded by positive, fun-loving, and empowering lifeguard men and women.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I came to realize that the environment of women and men guarding together was due to my mom’s perseverance and strength to prove many people’s opinions wrong. Janet showed at the age of 18 that women on any beach patrol’s force could be equally efficient as their male counter parts if they were given the opportunity and their gender wasn’t a deciding factor of employment at the time.

As I worked at Spring Lake as a guard, I found many interests that grew through my time there. When you become a part of your crew on a beach and learn the ropes of lifeguarding you find your niche within that time. No matter your age or experience level with the water, I found there is always more to learn and explore when it comes to safety and rescuing then you may initially think of. I remember having training sessions every year (multiple times a season) where I felt I understood it all at going into it since I grew up surrounded by guards and in the ocean, but I always found my ego was wrong and that there is more to consider than just the physical part of a rescue. I found empathy and problem-solving skills were your greatest asset when working as a lifeguard, not just your physical ability. I was able to learn that in a life- saving moment, even at 15 or 16 years old and even if your victim is 40 years old and conscious, you are the authority in charge and you are the one who has to be there for them calmly and have the answers.

That was a tough and scary fact to have to swallow at a young age. This is where my training and crew made a great impact on me. The encouragement and guidance I received as a young new-rescuer, led me to want to be that for the guards that would come up behind me in future years. That brought me to a place where I made it my duty to learn as much as possible and be open to new ideas as I grew up and became the senior guard. This also allowed for me to be open-minded to the fact that younger guards deserve the same respect if they have ideas or things the contribute. If it wasn’t for many of the guards I had as seniors such as my older sister Jessica, and my mother Janet I wouldn’t be where I am today as not only a Lifeguard but as a person.

One major rescue that I will never forget that had the greatest impact on my would have to be my first rescue ever. I was lucky to have the support of the guards around me that day and I can honestly say it was quite intimidating and scary but with the help of my crew we all made it out alive and safe. It was the summer of my rookie year July 2008, and Hurricane Bertha was raging if my memory serves me right (we had a particularly hard year that year with hurricanes from my memory). I was sitting stand at North End Pavilion in Spring Lake with my sister Jessica and the other female crew member Blane. Both of these women were huge impacts on me because I was not used to this crews water on top of the fact that I had never had a rescue at that point, I was a ball of nerves.

I was not used to this water at North End due to my season up to that point I had been on South End Pavilion’s crew (about a mile south) and I was moved North that day because of the seriousness of the water’s rip currents and the numbers were needed in the norther part that day. I was chosen to go there since I was the youngest and had the most to learn and could provide the most help intuit environment that day. It was Yellow flagged, meaning the water was ought enough that no-one was allowed past knee to waist high in the water without ocean fins on, so for most of the day it was crowd control informing the public of safety and water hazards and making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be.

We were cold due to the winds being heavy but I remember being nervous to keep my sweats all the way on with how dangerous the water conditions were and how many people were going in the water. I was asking many questions to Jessie and Blane about clothing removal for rescues and how to “know-when-to-go”. They treated me very respectfully, wandered my questions and calmed my nerves. We had it all controlled and safe for the most part until a massive washout happened. A “washout” is when the water suddenly, with minimal to absolutely no signs, opens up a very large powerful rip current due to the massive amounts of water being pushed ashore and it needs to be sucked back out to sea by the ocean.

In that one washout a family of eight kids, ranging ages were from 9-18, got sucked out and were gong out to sea. I remember being told to “GO!” By my sister Jessie and I went. It was scary and intense but in that moment all I could think about was helping those people. My sister and Blane worked to radio the rescue in and clear the water to keep more people from being sucked out. It felt like mayhem running into that water as people were running toward me or grabbing me or running past me to exit, I was running to the eight people in most danger all the while scared myself, but I had to be calm and in control. When I saw out and reached the eight people I had to find a way to lock them on (a way to securely hold the victim in place) to my rescue torp (some call it a rescue can) when also calling for a line (a rescue line typically is a rope with a strap connected which rescuers will swim out to the victim(s) and Initial rescuer(s) in an effort to be pulled into shore by the rescuers on land).

In a matter of minutes my sister was out there with another rescue torp (Four and Four victims on each) and we has Blane and others swimming us multiple lines to pull us in. The washout was carrying us out to sea, and we had to keep the victims all as calm as possible. Each victim was in a various state of shock or panic and that made it slightly more difficult to keep track of all those emotions. It was scary because at the time I wasn’t sure if we would make it in myself but I looked Blane and Jessie in the eye and I knew these women had my back and we would be okay. I could only hope at the time I gave them the same reassurance. At the end we made it in, Janet my mother (and also our boss, She was the chief lifeguard or Spring Lake) had been on crowd control, rescue detailing and was controlling the entire two miles of beach via radio at the time supporting us in all ways she could to ensure a safe effective rescue.

Turns out for this rescue they had to shut the entire 2 miles of beach down water and all to get enough bodies of guards to our location fast enough to pull us all in through that washout and waves. I was tremendously impressed and thankful in those moments for all of the help and support and guidance I had throughout that.

If there was any advice I could give to women in lifeguarding or women looking to become a lifeguard in their life, I would have to say its worth it, empowering and if you have even an ounce of desire to help people but aren’t sure how to do it no matter your age, do it, go for it you are more than capable. Lifeguarding is more than just your physical ability, its your desire to help that makes you a true rescuer and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Images provided by Jenna Carbin.