For more than two decades, the Narragansett Surf Rescue team has crushed the competition in statewide lifeguard races. Who will win this year’s crown?
Photography by Alexander Nesbitt
Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Narragansett Town Beach lifeguards wear theirs on their wall.
Painted on a cinderblock hall of the beach’s lifeguard room are signatures, drawings, poems and sketches from guards working here during the last twenty or so years, expressions of soul and selves. The tradition dates to the 1930s when they would jot their names on a door.
The old door was mistakenly left outside one winter, the artistic legacy erased by weather.
It picked up again inside, on the wall, in the early 1990s. One small work of art from 1998 has a rowboat with a shark face on it. One from 2006 shows the fabled Narragansett towers. Then there’s the sentiment from guard Chris Quinn, penned at summer’s end, 2007: “We’ve got all the talent but we’re not the best because of our talents, we’re the best because of our heart. We have more class, more pride, more desire and heart than anyone else. I live for ’Gansett!”
Empty boasting it is not: For twenty-three years, the Narragansett Surf Rescue squad has reigned supreme at annual lifeguard races, pitting guards from state and town beaches in feats of power and endurance, as they take to water and sand to row, kayak, paddleboard, swim and run.
It is a legacy not lost on newcomers like Chiara Spinazzola or old-timers like Dave Pezzullo, who is credited with orchestrating the championship run that began in 1987.
“There’s a deep sense of pride and tradition here,” says Brian A. Guadagno, senior lifeguard captain who winters in warmer climes but always returns to work summers in his hometown. “I think we all embody that.”
Pezzullo, a Narragansett native, spent boyhood summers at the beach and worked as a cabana boy as a teen. He became a guard in 1985. “Being a lifeguard was the place to be,” he says. “You’re outside, you get to see the girls, you’re paid to go to the beach.”
Now he’s forty-six, head of physical therapy at University Orthopedics, a family man and still in muscular, lifeguard shape. He says back in the day, there were about sixteen full-time guards (there are now nearly forty full- and part-time) who had one day a week off. “We were always together, always worked weekends, it really created a tight bond,” he says.
There were lifeguard competitions then, but not as organized as now, and Narragansett never fared well. “My captain was Mike McGreen. One year we came in fifth, and the award ceremony was held in our room at Narragansett,” Pezzullo says. “We had to watch all the others win. I remember Mike saying, ‘Man, this stinks, I hate losing.’ That stuck with me.”
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