Chapter History

History and Factual Information of the

Monmouth County (NJ) Chapter of the USLA

By: Bob Dillon, Co-founder and Past President

The Monmouth County Chapter is an integral part of the USLA “Mid-Atlantic Region”, and has the largest membership of this region. The Chapter fields a recognized competition team to the USLA National Lifeguard Championships every August, and by record, is the strongest competition team on the east coast, placing second many times to the west coast’s LA County’s team. In 1983, the chapter team did win the National Championships, held in Long Beach, NY.

The history of Monmouth County is rich and reflects the integral part it played in our Revolutionary War. The area was important for the coastal military defense of New York harbor up until 1973 and includes landmarks of the USLS (United States Lifesaving Service), instituted to rescue shipwrecked sailors and passengers off New Jersey’s coast. The history of the coastal fishing industry during the 1800’s and early 1900’s includes a type of surfboat called the “Sea Bright Skiff”, which was constructed here and used daily to bring in the catch from “off the beach”. The configuration of this boat served as the model for the beach patrol rescue boats of New Jersey’s beaches, and remains the basic hull configuration of the ever present and well known “Asay Surfboats” of today. These boats, made of both wood and fiberglass, serve both as utility rescue boats by the beach patrols in Monmouth County, and as the surfboat of choice for all lifeguard rowing competitors, whether it be local tournaments or USLA Regional or National Championships. The boat has also been adopted by other chapter teams throughout the US due to it’s self-bailing aspect, which is an evolved modification of the basic “skiff” design. The builder, Bob Asay, is a chapter member and competitor, and has been constructing and improving his surfboats in Asbury Park, Monmouth County, since his first wooden boat was built there in 1980.

The USLA National Certification Program was modeled after the NJ/USLA certification program, developed in Monmouth County. The certification is mandated in NJ for all beaches and all beach lifeguards. This was first introduced and developed by chapter member, Dave Shotwell of Ocean Grove in 1989, and was a fully functional program in NJ when the USLA National Board of Directors enacted a directive for a USLA “national certification” program. All beach patrols in NJ must be certified, but may also opt to also apply for the national USLA certification. The national USLA became such in 1979, before which it was called the “National Surf Lifesaving Association”, first established 1965 in California. The one mainly responsible for this change in name and concept was the late Sheridan Byerly of Los Angeles County. In March of 1979, he visited the East Coast and made a stop in Monmouth County. An informational session was set up in the Physical Education Office of Monmouth College (now MU) by the late Dick Steadman, swimming and diving coach of MC. In attendance were Dick, Bob Dillon, Greg Farry, and a few other interested parties to hear about this “national” lifeguard organization. In fact, the USLA was not yet national, for the only affiliations then were in California. This informational meeting was an attempt to stimulate interest here on the East coast. It was thought that a chapter here would be a good forum not only for beach supervisors, but also for the rank and file beach lifeguard to affiliate in order to improve their professionalism and to augment the rescue response of the beach patrols through new communication linkages of beach patrols throughout the US. Other benefits of belonging to a national organization, where the motto “Lifeguards for Life” was self evident. Membership materials, public education materials, competition opportunities were all inherent in this new venture. Thus, the Monmouth County Chapter of the USLA was “born” as a practical concept and entity in this year, 1979. Meetings were subsequently held at Monmouth College with the chapter becoming a known functional entity among the beach patrols of Monmouth County. With names of NY contacts given to Bob Dillon by Sheridan, calls were made to others like Tom Daly of Long Beach, NY, who was starting a Long Beach, NY Chapter. Meetings were held at both Monmouth College and in Long Beach, NY, and so began the foundation and formation of the “MA Region”. The history and beginning of the “Mid-Atlantic Region” is now tied directly to the history of the Monmouth County Chapter.

The USLA was now something new in the area, and membership was inviting and something novel. Bob and Dick were spreading the word and soliciting membership on the various beaches. Greg Farry was asked to be first treasurer. What was facilitative to entice membership was the fact that Coppertone was then the national sponsor, and upon request, a multitude of boxes of various Coppertone products began arriving in Monmouth County. Bob’s garage was the distribution center where much packing of membership kits took place. The chapter was now established with the by-laws modeled after the national association, and the dues were $20.00. This covered both the regional and national dues. There was also a magazine that came with the membership four times a year, printed then in California, and called “US Lifesaving”. (now called “American Lifeguard”).

After the first year, an Ocean County Chapter was initiated by Jim Cresbaugh, of the Lavallette BP. He attended meetings of the Monmouth County Chapter and then spun off another chapter with blessings from the MC Chapter. Two chapters in two adjacent counties enabled competition possibilities between the two chapters. Thus, on two occasions “The Monmouth vs. Ocean County All Star Lifeguard Tournament” took place, once on Manasquan Beach in 1982, and again in 1983 in Bradley Beach. The events were organized by Bob Dillon and on both occasions, a visiting competition team from Australia participated unofficially. Festivities after the competition took place at the old “Rescue Tavern” of Belmar, then owned by Tim Gallagher. (The Rescue is now called “The Boathouse” and owned by brothers Tim and Matt Harmon of the SG BP). The mixing of the Aussi and local lifeguard competitors enabled some pleasant exchanges and comparative competition discussions, as well as exposure to another lifeguard culture including other rescue techniques. There have been other visits by both Australian competitors, officials and coaches to Monmouth County. The chapter, now having recognition in the US and being prominent in the Northeast, is contacted frequently to be the host for a visit. The chapter has hosted many individuals from other parts of the country and of the world.

Back in 1980, this desire to both be recognized by the USLA and to gain from participation in it’s functions initiated some overtures from the chapter to the west coast. It was Greg Farry who first went to a national meeting, the Spring meeting held in San Clemente, CA . With $150.00 from the treasury (the rest out of pocket), he went to see what a national meeting was all about. It was there that the Executive Director of the USLA, Byron Wear, invited the chapter to participate in the first National Lifeguard Championships of the newly named “USLA”. This was to be held in San Diego in August. Realizing the chapter did not have much in the way of resources to field a team to California, the effort was made to solicit interested competitors. With only about $600.00 available in the treasury at that time for expenses, the prospect of sending a “team” was doubtful. However, a team of four competitors was formed and captained by Art Poole of Sandy Hook. Accepting the fact that the expense would mostly be out of pocket, they went, they participated, they learned, and they helped establish our presence at a national venue. Since that early beginning, the chapter has fielded a team for every national lifeguard championships, and has placed in the top four every time. We had now become nationally ranked as one of the top four teams in the nation. Competitors from the Monmouth County Chapter have also become nationally ranked as individuals due to their respective performances. Every USLA national team of twelve competitors formed to compete in the “World International Championships”, every two years, has included competitors from this chapter. Monmouth County is now “on the map” in the US due to the participation and the records of our competitors. Proclamations from the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders have been bestowed on the chapter twice due to the chapter team’s performances. The competition aspect of the USLA has facilitated national recognition, to not only the chapter, but also to Monmouth County, NJ.

Regarding administration of the USLA , the elected national Executive Board has two long standing members from this Chapter: Greg Farry as Treasurer and Dave Shotwell as Secretary. Tim Gallagher has, for many years, both coached and managed the USLA National team in the “Worlds”, as well as served as President of the Mid-Atlantic Region for thirteen years (1990-2003). Tim was also the editor/publisher of the “American Lifeguard” magazine the membership publication of the USLA, for eight years (1993-2000). Greg Farry was for a time, treasurer of all three levels of the USLA: chapter, region and national. Greg, along with Ed Kiziukiewicz, were bestowed “life members” in the USLA by the national board of directors. Dave Shotwell still manages the Certification Program in NJ. Locally, co-founder Bob Dillon served as the chapters first president from it’s beginning in 1979 to 1984 when Charles Hartl took over from 1985 to 1988. Bob resumed the presidency again in 1988 until December of 2003, when newly elected Tim Harmon of the Sea Girt BP took office. One can see that the Monmouth County Chapter has an impressive history and legacy, and is a chapter that is held in high regard within the USLA. From surfboats and national titles; from certification to administrative positions and involvement, this chapter is now well established with it’s membership and it’s recognition. Hopefully it’s status will continue to improve as it’s new officers lead forth with new ideas and an involved membership. The Chapter’s history begins now, and should continue with new accomplishments and further recognition, as it’s members continue to be an integral part of the USLA.

Both past and future members should realize that we have become a chapter, and should continue being a chapter of “Lifeguards for Life”!

Monmouth County History

A Historical Perspective of Ocean Lifeguarding in

Monmouth County, New Jersey

by:Michael “Spike” Fowler, Lifeguard Supervisor, Monmouth County Park System

The Graveyard of the Atlantic. That was how New Jersey was described in the Nineteenth Century as its shoreline became host to an estimated 5,000 shipwrecks. The real story of ocean rescue begins in New Jersey in 1849 with the establishment of the United States Lifesaving Service – precursor to all lifeguarding efforts. However, these lifesavers did not swim to rescue victims nor did they sit watch over bathers from lifeguard stands during the summer months. But they did establish a record of safety and success and this was instrumental in developing the concept of “life guards”.

During the 1800’s people flocked to the shore by horse, wagon, rail, foot, and later by automobile, to enjoy the ocean and its benefits. Ocean bathing became highly fashionable and the surf offered ready escape from the heat, insects, and dust commonly found inland. There were no lifeguards in the early years and unfortunate victims were pulled out by the rip currents and drowned - their heavy woolen bathing suits made swimming difficult, if not impossible.

By the mid-1800’s, the time had come to protect the throngs of bathers. Thus life guarding was born in New Jersey, and emerges in three distinct eras.

Era I – Foundations: 1855 to 1904

If they were to attract vacationers, resort hotels recognized the need for protecting their guests. It was a way to promote their business and even the railroads advertised ocean safety, all in an attempt to entice passengers to travel from the city to the shore.

The earliest lifeguards in New Jersey were Constables of the Surf in Atlantic City, dating back to 1855. They were regular police officers who would change into beach gear for the bathing hours, 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM after which they would return to regular police duty.

Many of the early bather protection devices (circa 1865) were simply poles placed through the surf line and strung with ropes between them. Bathers during this era were particularly fond of hanging on to the seaweed covered ropes and “fanny dunking”. Ropes strung across the back poles, set parallel to the shore were designed to box bathers in and prevent them from being swept offshore.

In 1868, the New Excursion Hotel in Atlantic City advertised a contrivance known as Street’s Patented Lifelines for Safety and Amusement. It consisted simply of vertical lines hanging down from ropes stretched between the poles – bathers would dangle from the ropes in relative safety.

Both Ocean Grove and Atlantic City claim 1872 as the beginning of their lifeguard service. It is believed the early guards, or Bathing Masters, were volunteers rather than paid crews. They walked the beach on rough surf days, often with a life ring slung around their neck, working for tips. Legend has it one volunteer returned 48 cents to a man after heroically rescuing him. Upset by his mere 50 cent tip, the guard proclaimed he “could not accept more than a life was worth”.

Advertising continued to entice people to the shore. An 1877 ad by a New Jersey railroad line boasted, Life-lines, as a matter of course are entirely unnecessary and unknown, and the life-boats, which ride beyond the surf during the hours devoted to bathing seem to represent a useless precaution. Not withstanding this, the vigilance of their crews while thus hovering outside the multitude disporting in the breakers, presents a sense of security which their watchful care induces, and is at once inviting and reassuring to the weaker or more timid of the bathers in the surf.

Lifeguard crews in the southern shore area became paid services in the early 1890’s and the first full-time guards were hired in Atlantic City in 1892. Other cities soon followed and Asbury Park had lifeguarded beaches by 1896.

Era II - Development: 1900 to 1965

Shortly after the turn of the century, lifeguarding in New Jersey was well established with crews in Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Ocean City, the Wildwoods, and Cape May. Aside from patrol and rescue duties, lifeguards also played a role in offering medical assistance at the beach. Rising as the most popular seaside resort on the east coast, Atlantic City’s medical beach tents were established in 1904. Erected above large wooden platforms, guards and medical assistants tended to the masses. Some crews, like Cape May kept a full-time registered nurse on duty as an adjunct to the lifeguards.

Medical services didn’t help in 1916 as veteran Spring Lake lifeguards hauled a shark attack victim into their surfboat after he was fatally attacked off the Essex and Sussex Hotel beach. The continued shark attacks along the New Jersey Coast became one of the most newsworthy stories ever in the history of ocean bathing.

Lifeguards in this era became “crews” and took pride in their service. Competitions began and included contests in swimming and rowing. Equipment was refined and bathing rings transformed into rescue cans, cylinder shaped devices with cone “torpedo” end caps, and strung with ropes. The rescuer could now tow the float to the victim and swim them in. Their shape and construction, however, made them dangerous missiles in the water with their pointy ends and were known even to attract lightning.

Diamond cans developed as a safer lifeguard rescue device. Named for their shape, they were constructed from cork or balsa wood and covered with canvas. Rope strung around the perimeter gave the victim something to grab on to.

Paddleboards came from Hawaii to New Jersey in the 1930’s and a classic 1937 photo of the Cape May Beach Patrol pictures them with their 14’+ boards. Surfboats were especially popular patrol and rescue vessels and early postcard views confirm their popularity.

Canvas and leather belts with brass hardware became standard in this era. Worn loosely about the waist, they were used to tow rescue gear to victims. Rescue lines were often attached to the can so the rescuer and victim could be quickly pulled to shore. By the time the 1930’s rolled around most shore municipalities had lifeguard crews in place.

One New Jersey lifeguarding oddity was the practice of pole sitting. Lifeguards, most likely rookies were required to sit on top of the poles defining the bathing area. Youthful beach patrons were particularly adept at jumping on the ropes causing the poles to swing in attempts to dislodge the guard.

Era III - Modern Time: 1965 to Present

The third era is marked by significant improvements to lifeguarding standards of operation. Tourism had become such an important industry in Monmouth County that municipalities relied on quality lifeguard services to support the influx of visitors. It was bad public relations to have beachfront accidents. Crews became professional with standards of hiring and training as the United States Lifesaving Association took over certification from the American Red Cross. CPR and first aid certifications were added to the list of requirements for ocean lifeguards in Monmouth County. Hiring tests help assure government officials, patrons and beach managers their crews are competent swimmers and athletes.

Equipment became better, safer and faster. Bathing poles, last used in Ocean Grove in 1964, were replaced with foam line floats, precluding the large number of head and neck injuries, not to mention countless cuts and scrapes from the barnacle encrusted poles. Short lived manila ropes were replaced with bright colored polypropylene bathing lines.

Paddleboards, popularized in Monmouth County in the 1960’s, enabled skilled lifeguards to quickly reach offshore victims. Lightweight, inexpensive surf kayaks began to replace boats as favored exercise, patrol and rescue vessels. Metal, cork, and balsa rescue cans were replaced with bright colored and efficient rescue flotation devices (RFD’s) with molded handles and slings. Canvas and leather belts were replaced by low maintenance, ready-to-use slings.

Technology made inroads into the lifeguarding profession. From mechanized rescue jet skis to inflatable rescue boats (IRB’s), Monmouth County lifeguards are radio dispatched and often transported to emergencies by 4 wheel drive rescue trucks or all terrain vehicles. Crew’s are managed administratively with computer databases and budget spreadsheets.

Today, the USLA proactively promotes public education, beach safety, lifeguard certifications and professionalism. It provides its members with information on critical lifeguard issues such as skin cancer and health issues. Local, regional and national lifeguard competitions motivate crews to showcase their rescue skills.

Of course, no mention of lifeguarding in Monmouth County would be complete without tribute to Howard Rowland. Certainly the most legendary of all Monmouth County lifeguards, Rowland established his legacy from the 1930’s through his death in 1988, receiving dozens of citations during his career. While working as a fireman in Asbury Park and lifeguard in Belmar, he was credited with saving the lives of an estimated 6,000 victims. He made his first rescue at age 12 and was one of the first rescuers to the Morro Castle whose flaming hull came to rest off Convention Hall in Asbury Park. He single handedly rescued 19 victims in one storm and eventually made Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the oldest working lifeguard in America. Many lifeguard vets from Monmouth County well remember the respect, and sometimes fear Howard Rowland would strike when he came to “test your lifeguard skills”.

The Monmouth County Chapter of the United States Lifesaving Association has maintained an outstanding legacy of service to the public and has compiled a remarkable and enviable safety record. Our chapter takes pride in employing some of the finest lifeguards in the United States.

Monmouth County, New Jersey Lifeguard and Beach Facts:

  • There are an estimated 2,450 ocean lifeguards along the 127 miles of coastline in New Jersey.

  • Gateway National Recreation Area lifeguards at Sandy Hook are the only crew in Monmouth County to maintain the tradition of canvas and leather belts.

  • Monmouth County lifeguards are the only lifeguards in the United States that regularly use the “stand-up”, boating style of rowing surfboats.

  • The average hourly wage for a rookie lifeguard in 2003 in New Jersey was $8.06.

  • The term “bathing suit” comes from when early beach-goers wore their oldest “street” clothes for ocean swimming.

  • Most early bathing suits were made from wool. They were replaced in the 1940’s with rubber and nylon suits.

  • Hotels and bathhouses used to rent bathing suits.

  • Saltwater baths and bathing were and still are considered medicinal and beneficial; patrons often left the salt on their skin rather than shower.

  • Cape May Beach Patrol lifeguards were the last crew in New Jersey requiring uniform suit tops for men. The practice ended in the 1960’s.

  • Lifeguards in the Wildwoods patrolled their beaches on motorcycles with sidecars through the 1940’s.

  • Until the development of fiberglass “self-bailer” lifeguard boats, the basic design of the surfboat remained unchanged for about 100 years.

  • Finally, despite our high technology world, it is still possible to get rookie lifeguards to search for lengths of shoreline and keys to the oarlocks.