Between the months of June and August, Cape Cod beaches come to life with tribes of umbrellas and bright beach towels. Of the myriad of colors that congregate below the dunes, red is the most profuse. Fit figures in scarlet bathing suits survey the surf from atop towering white stands: Meet Jody, Ethan, Danielle and Erin, four of the Cape’s former and current dedicated lifeguards.Text by Catherine Malcynsky | Photography by Luke Simpson
Jody Craven, 48
Lifeguard career: Former head lifeguard for the Town of Wellfleet; currently works at White Crest Beach three to four days a week.
In the off-season: Jody teaches metals and jewelry classes at Nauset Regional High School. To keep in shape year round, he surfs, paddleboards, kiteboards and runs.
Craven, who considers himself a “washashore,” was born in Pennsylvania. He lived very close to Lecount Hollow in Wellfleet, where the sea was a constant temptation. After befriending local lifeguards, Jody joined them for the next 27 years.
Best part of the job: “This might sound strange,” says Jody, “but I really like picking up the trash in the mornings. It’s nice to clean it up and see that we make a difference. It is also when we find our best ‘beach finds.’ It is a really beautiful setting to work in.”
Craziest thing he’s ever seen? “One summer at Cahoon Hollow, a guy tried to ski down the dune. He had obviously been planning it, as he had his snow skis, boots and poles with him at the beach on an 85-degree day. He ended up breaking his leg.” Though the dune-skier was by far the most shocking, Jody is used to the occasional oddities: “One time, we had a fog bank about two miles off the coast and a person came up and asked me if it was Europe he was seeing in the distance.”
Shark inquiries: In all of Jody’s years as a lifeguard, he has only seen three great white sharks—one of which was a 16-to-18-foot shark while he was stand-up paddleboarding. Although he’s only seen a few sharks, he fields about five shark questions per day.
Ethan Craven, 16
(Jody Craven’s son)
His territory: All of the Wellfleet beaches, but his favorite is White Crest Beach.
In the off-season: Ethan is a sophomore at Nauset Regional High School. He plays soccer both for the school team and for a club based out of Plymouth.
Ethan grew up in Wellfleet. Eager to follow in his father’s sandy footsteps, Ethan became a lifeguard as soon as he qualified. His first full summer lifeguarding was in 2015, and he plans to continue. Last summer, he saved two swimmers from the currents, and assisted in many other rescues.
Something people don’t know about lifeguarding: “We get paid to work out,” boasts Ethan, who says the greatest hidden dangers on the beach are the rip currents and the sliding dunes. While the dunes can be dangerous, the sandy shores are harmless, and Ethan thinks it’s strange when people wear shoes to the beach.
Like his father, he also receives some strange questions, such as: “Where do you keep the harpoons for the sharks?”
Best part of the job: Ethan loves lifeguarding because he gets the chance to keep people safe and make their vacation to his beautiful home more enjoyable.
Erin McLaughlin, 28
Lifeguard career: Since the age of 15, she has been lifeguarding. Eight of those 13 years have been on Cape Cod. This year marks her sixth summer working at Nauset Light Beach in Eastham.
In the off-season: McLaughlin is a school psychologist. To keep in shape, she swims, runs, spins and takes barre classes.
McLaughlin is originally from Connecticut, where she swam for the University of Connecticut, but she grew up visiting Wellfleet every summer. She now lives permanently in Rhode Island.
Something people don’t know about lifeguarding: “There’s actually a lot of paperwork involved,” says McLaughlin. “We keep track of everyone we talk to and everyone we treat, from minor injuries that require Band-Aids to people we send to the hospital. The numbers are impressive by the end of the summer!”
Even more impressive are the items that sometimes wash up on shore. “An unexploded bomb once washed up while I was working,” says McLaughlin. “The police had to blow it up. That was crazy.”
Shark inquiries: Like the other lifeguards, McLaughlin is used to getting about 20 shark questions per day.
Strangest question asked by a beachgoer: “Can you make the beach less rocky?”
Danielle (Dani) Benton, 30
Lifeguard career: She patrolled the beaches for 11 seasons, but has now retired. Usually assigned to Head of the Meadow in Truro, her favorite beach is Longnook, also in Truro, a quieter, non-guarded beach.
In the off-season: To stay in shape, Benton stand-up paddleboards and does CrossFit. Since retiring from lifeguarding, Benton has spent time waitressing and now runs her own business designing ocean-inspired jewelry called “Ocean Love.”
Benton grew up in Truro, but currently resides in Wellfleet. At Nauset High, Benton was an avid surfer and swimmer, and was therefore the perfect candidate for becoming a lifeguard.
Best part of the job: While Benton was a lifeguard, she enjoyed the workouts, the time spent on the water, and the feeling of accomplishment the job provided. That said, her favorite aspect of lifeguarding was working with close friends. “Even after spending eight hours together on the beach, we still hung out at night!”
Shark inquiries: In recent years, Benton has been bombarded with shark questions despite only seeing the occasional fin while working. Sharks aside, problems can arise when beachgoers get directly involved with sick or dying wildlife on the beach. “It happens more often than you’d think!” says Benton.
Strangest question asked by a beachgoer: “Is there a button lifeguards can press to make the tide switch?”