OGUNQUIT – The contestants ran — knees high — over the submerged sandbar before switching to dolphin dives until they passed the waves and were able to get into their strokes and swim to the buoy.

They came back, ran along the shore and made their way to another buoy and back before racing along the sand.

Adam Eramo crossed the finish line comfortably ahead of his competitors. Instead of gloating over his victory, the 20-year-old college student explained how the competition celebrated his lifeguarding family.

“You spend your entire summer there. Everybody is like family. These are my brothers and sisters,” said Eramo, a lifeguard at Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts, after Friday’s run-swim-run event. “Competition brings us closer.”

If lifeguarding is a family affair, the 31st annual Northern New England Lifesaving Championship was like a reunion of the extended clan, as teams from southern Maine, New Hampshire and southern New England converged on Ogunquit Beach.

It’s a chance for lifeguards to show their abilities — the results of vigorous training throughout the season, said Michael Roche, the 37-year-old captain of Ogunquit Ocean Rescue.

His team, for example, trains four mornings a week, whether it’s on land, in the water or on paddleboards.

The events mimic that training, to an extent. There are various swimming and paddleboarding races. A surf rescue with torpedo buoys may conjure up visions of “Baywatch” for some spectators.

Beach flags is a bit like musical chairs, possibly with some flying elbows, as lifeguards pop up from their stomachs to grab a flag.

It’s a favorite competition for Morgan Swinburne, 28, a lifeguard from Old Orchard Beach. Beach flags is about speed and agility, she said, and people can get rowdy.

“I am friendly, but I will not say I don’t throw my weight around a little bit,” she said.

Camaraderie may be the main point, but bragging rights are at stake.

This year, observers saw Salisbury Beach — a team with a good number of competitive college swimmers — and Ogunquit — a diverse group that includes high school students and professionals like teachers, doctors and lawyers — as the primary contenders.

And in fact, they finished first and second, respectively, in all three categories — the women’s and men’s divisions and Overall Lifeguard Service.

Ogunquit held the title from 2006 to 2008, but last year Salisbury Beach snatched victory by one point.

York’s lifeguards weren’t looking to go home with the overall winner’s cup. They were excited just to have enough team members Friday so no one had to go more than once in the paddleboard relay.

Despite being short-staffed in the past couple of years, they had finished second and third in the race, said Dan Casey, a University of New England student.

“Last year, we were in first place. I was running and missed (grabbing) the board,” Casey said, the near-win still vivid.

The event provides interesting opportunities for Lance Timberlake, 30, who teaches high school psychology and U.S. history and works as an Old Orchard Beach lifeguard in the summer.

Some of his students were on competing teams Friday.

“They’re used to seeing me in a shirt and tie,” Timberlake said during the lunch break.

They got a different view of their teacher as Timberlake competed in the surf rescue.

His partner, 22-year-old Jack Sevigny, took his position with the other “victims” about 75 meters off shore. The rescuers raced to them and the pairs returned to shore, each partner holding on to a torpedo buoy. The rescuers then carried their victims piggy-back or across their shoulders to the finish line.

Timberlake and Sevigny collapsed after finishing sixth. Sevigny, his front covered with sand, said they fell behind after his hand slipped off the buoy.

“You feeling old, Timbo?” said Peter Guay, a 39-year-old former lifeguard who is engaged to Swinburne.

Timberland said Sevigny — as fit and trim as any of the lifeguards — wasn’t the problem. “After the swim,” he said, “they get heavier than they look.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]