The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 16 No. 27 - May 4, 2016


Rex Beach: off guard

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


Rex Beach drives the Jet Ski during a training exercise
in 2012 in Bradenton Beach. Below, lifeguard legends from
beach days gone gathered

BRADENTON BEACH – When Lt. Rex Beach started lifeguarding on Anna Maria Island 40 years ago, the first aid kit had a dime taped inside it so lifeguards could call an ambulance from a pay phone. The rescue board was an old surfboard from the 1960s. Lifeguards had to walk down to the next tower to talk to each other.

Now, lifeguards train as EMTs and use defibrillators, stabilization boards, ATVs, Jet Skis and cell phones.

And – not that the public safety professionals couldn't handle the heat – lifeguard stands at Manatee Beach and Coquina Beach are enclosed and air conditioned.

Combine that with being paid to look at the view that millions of visitors come here on vacation to see, and you might think that being a lifeguard has become a day at the beach.

Not so, said Beach, who is retiring after a 45-year career in lifeguarding that started at a swimming pool in Kokomo, Ind.

There are limb-wrenching rip currents. Sand-blasting winds. Eye-tearing glare. Hair-raising lightning. Sunscreen-melting heat. Man-eating bugs. Constant surveillance for signs of exhausted weekend warriors who swam too far from shore; jellyfish, stingrays or sharks approaching bathers; or conflicts brewing on the beach. And the all-time favorite, the human ladder scenario, when a panicking swimmer tries to climb up you.

But the compensations are priceless.

Watching a manatee sneak up on an unsuspecting swimmer and waiting with a mischievous grin for the inevitable screams.

Having a bird's eye view of the free, daily dolphin show.

Basking in the admiration of pretty girls.

And, best of all, saving lives.

Like the rescue of a family, including an infant, from a boat that had become entangled on an abandoned anchor line in Longboat Pass. Or the discovery, with another lifeguard, of a woman who couldn't swim and had fallen off a boat two miles from shore with only a seat cushion and a floating child's toy keeping her afloat.

When he arrived here on a motorcycle trip from Indiana in 1976, Beach never dreamed lifeguarding would be his lifelong career, he said Friday at his retirement party, which drew lifeguard legends from decades past on Anna Maria Island to toast the county's senior public safety staff member.

"I've been fortunate to work with a lot of great guys and girls," he said.

And after 40 years on the beach, he's still not tired of it. He and his wife, Lisa, plan to travel out West, stopping to enjoy lakes, rivers, any water they come across.

And if any swimmers find themselves in distress within his purview, it's certain that Beach won't let retirement stop him from jumping in to help.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper