Caroline Brown, who is the United States Lifesaving Association’s female junior lifeguard of the year, the first one from here to be so honored, said during a conversation at The Star the other day that she had grown up on East Hampton Village’s Main Beach, and had learned to surf in Montauk before she could ride a bike.
Asked to summon up an early swimming memory, the engaging 16-year-old said, “I remember getting sucked into a rip current when I was, like, 5, maybe 7 . . . I felt it, it was pulling me out. The lifeguards came out, but I walked out of it.”
Everyone tends to panic in a rip current, she added. “You have to let it take you and swim to the side.”
She wanted to compete in a national junior lifeguard tournament when she was 9, “but my mom said no.” The next year, her mother, Lisa, said she could, and she hasn’t stopped since.
“I loved everything about it,” she said. “The events — I do everything except running — meeting people from all over the country. . . .”
Craig Brierley, who has coached the East Hamptoner since she was “7 or 8,” recommended her for the national award, impressed as he was by her love for lifeguarding, her hard work, and by her willingness to mentor junior guards younger than she. The Hamptons Lifeguard Association would “benefit greatly,” he had said in his nominating essay, “when Caroline is old enough to start lifeguarding for East Hampton Town.”
Brown said she’d been shocked when she’d learned of the award, having had no idea that her coach, “a great guy,” had recommended her for it.
Brierley probably won’t have to wait long, for Brown intends to take the first ocean certification test the H.L.A. gives, in June. It was, she agreed, “a tough test, but I’ve been teaching people how to take it since I was 12.”
As for surfing, she kind of learned on her own — in the company of her father, Eric, and on a board her uncle, Don Schulte, had given her when she was 5.
“I went to a regional competition in New Jersey when I was probably 12 or 13, and got seventh in longboard, but I don’t compete anymore — I just do it for fun. . . . Oh yes, I fall off . . . lots of times.”
When it comes to swimming — and this should tell you something about her — she competes for East Hampton High’s girls team in the 500 freestyle, a grueling 20-lap race, and, moreover, enjoys it.
“You ease into a pace and maintain that,” she said when asked about strategy, “and then, in the last seven laps, you pick it up.”
Given this evidence of staying power, her interviewer said he was sure she could do well as a runner. “No, I’m not running,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve always been a water person.”
August’s U.S.L.A. tournament, on South Padre Island in Texas, will be the eighth time she’s been at the nationals, whose sites have included Hermosa Beach, Calif., Virginia Beach, Va., and Daytona, Fla.
Amanda Calabrese, a recent Stanford University graduate and former East Hamptoner who has placed highly in national and international lifesaving competitions, especially in beach flags and surf ski, introduced her to surf ski racing when she was 13, Brown said. And Ryan Paroz, a top H.L.A. competitor from Australia, “who’s amazing at it,” trained her the following year.
When people ask her what an oceangoing surf ski is, she usually tells them “it’s an elongated kayak with a kayak-like paddle. It’s extremely lightweight, probably 20 pounds, and pretty narrow. You use pedals to turn the rudder. . . . My coach now is from South Africa, Lee McGregor. I keep in touch with him through email, though I’ll see him soon, in Florida, in mid-February.”
She was, she said, lucky to have been born here, near the water, and to have grown up in the company of lifeguards, whose much-remarked-upon ability to pull together may have had something to do with inclining her toward international relations as a possible major in college. She had been Singapore, she said, in a recent Model U.N. convocation concerned with countries’ reactions to refugees. Alliances had to be formed, and resolutions had to be proposed and voted upon.
Asked how her bloc had done, she said, “We succeeded — we were one of the top finishers.”
She’d been a bay guard this past summer, she said — teaching the children of summer residents how to swim and surf in her off hours. While she’d been vigilant, and had helped babies over the rocks, she was after seven years of junior lifeguarding eager to take the next step.
“Now,” she said in parting, “I’m ready to rescue.”