Long Beach’s four-men competitive lifeguard team earned a first-place award for the second year straight at the National Lifeguard Championships earlier this month in Virginia Beach.
The quartet won the landline rescue relay race, the premiere event of the competition, which is hosted by the United States Lifesaving Association. Long Beach is the first team in 15 years to win back-to-back titles in the contest.
After taking first in their heats in the preliminaries and the semifinals, the team was very confident going into the finals on Aug. 9, where they were pitted against 15 other top teams, said Long Beach lifeguard Phil Cabasino.
But midway through the race, he said doubt crept in.
At the sound of the starting whistle, Cabasino’s younger brother, Tim, charged into the water carrying a rescue buoy attached to a long rope. He had to swim 120 meters, about 394 feet, from the shore to where teammate, James Canner, 19, was treading water, playing the part of a drowning victim.
“Halfway through the race, we saw that we weren’t blowing everyone out of the water like we did in prelims; it didn’t even look like we were in the lead,” recalled Phil Cabasino, 26. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t think this is going to happen.’”
Once Tim Cabasino, 23, reached Canner, he handed him a rescue buoy and signaled for Phil Cabasino and the fourth team member, P.J. Gillespie, 25, to start reeling them both in. At that moment, the competitors and cheering spectators on the beach were whipped into a frenzy.
Phil Cabasino and Gillespie sprinted back-and-forth on the sand, pulling the line with them to tow the other half of their team to shore. Gillespie fell, but quickly recovered, and their fans on the sidelines screamed: “Faster!” “It’s really close.” “You can do it!
At that moment, Phil Cabasino said he realized the team still had chance, but that it was going to be close.
“We had that nervous burst of adrenaline,” he said.
For the last leg of the race, Gillespie and both Cabasino brothers had to lift Canner up and carry him about 30 yards to the finish line. The foursome made it there just seconds before the second place team finished.
“It wasn’t our best, but it was good enough for first,” Phil Cabasino said. “We had to scrape and claw and really earn it.”
After going roughly 40 years without winning a USLA event, Long Beach’s victory in 2013 was a long time coming. This year’s win was reassuring, Phil Cabasino said.
“Winning once was a relief, but winning twice is an achievement,” Phil Cabasino said. “Now, we just want to keep going until we lose.”