North Wildwood beach patrol celebrates a century

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Photo courtesy Wildwood Historical Society/A North Wildwood guard competes in the Beschen-Callahan races, but the date of the photo is unknown. Photo courtesy Wildwood Historical Society/A North Wildwood guard competes in the Beschen-Callahan races, but the date of the photo is unknown. NORTH WILDWOOD—The start of 2014 won’t be just another year for North Wildwood’s beach patrol. Come this summer, the NWBP will be celebrating its centennial anniversary.

“I’m very excited,” Tony Cavalier, North Wildwood’s beach patrol chief, said. “It’s been my life and a lot of other guys’ and girls’ lives down here by the beach.”

In 2013, Cavalier celebrated his 40th summer on the beach patrol.

Mayor Harry H. Hoffman first formed North Wildwood’s beach patrol in 1914 during the last year of his three-year term as mayor.

It is unclear how many guards were apart of the patrol in its beginnings. But, according to records on file with the Wildwood Historical Society, former lifeguard Bob Starr was 20 years old when he joined North Wildwood’s beach patrol in 1946. He was one of 12 guards used to man the beach at that time, and they were paid $3.25 a day.

According to those records, one of the most common duties for guards was teaching bathers how to clean tar off their feet, which had washed ashore from oil leaked from sunken tankers.

Cavalier says that guarding the city’s beaches has definitely evolved since not only the beach patrol’s inception, but also when he first started in 1966.

“One of the biggest changes is the equipment,” he said. The lifeboats are now constructed better, as is the rescue equipment. Now, guards are also held more accountable and need to be certified before they can be on patrol.

According the beach patrol’s website, early lifeguards used what they called a “triangle can” as a buoy, which was basically a tin can on a rope. Later on, the buoy would change to be made out of cork and canvas, and eventually fiberglass and rubber. Now, they use a what’s called a torpedo, made of rigid plastic.

Now, the North Wildwood beach patrol has about 70 guards on staff in the summer to serve the city’s one and a half mile beach. Last year, those guards made more than 200 rescues on the beach, and Cavalier says the improved public safety record of the patrol is his proudest accomplishment.

“The number of saves we make is definitely something you can be proud of,” he said.

The first female guards were hired to North Wildwood’s beach patrol in 1986, 53 years after neighboring Wildwood had made national headlines by hiring two female guards for its patrol.

Over the course of the year, North Wildwood plans to commemorate the beach patrol at several city events. Mayor-elect Patrick Rosenello said.

“Most of them will be closer to the summer season, when the lifeguards are actually on duty,” he said.

One event in particular, the Beschen-Callahan Memorial Races, will definitely include a tribute to the beach patrol’s 100th birthday, Rosenello said.

The first Beschen-Callahan races were held in 1969 to honor two of the beach patrol’s members who had died while serving in the Vietnam War. The two men, Jim Beschen and Mike Callahan, were both killed during separate incidents in Vietnam, and were co-workers with Cavalier.

Cavalier said that when the races began, only the Wildwoods and Cape May competed. Now, almost every beach patrol in the county sends a team.

During the 2013 Beschen-Cavalier races, North Wildwood’s Pat McVan run the can run, an event that is unique to the Beschen-Cavalier races and is similar to a one-guard surf dash.

To also commemorate the centennial, Cavalier said guards will get patches for their uniforms marking the anniversary. The uniforms for guards have definitely changed over the years as well. The first suits were made out of wool.

Besides being able to celebrate the beach patrol’s centennial, Cavalier said that one of the greatest parts of being chief of the NWBP has been watching kids grow up after joining the patrol. Often, guards start when they are around 16 or 17, so Cavalier said he has seen many graduate high school, college, and even go on to start families.

“I have a lot of great memories,” he said.

Email Christie Rotondo at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or comment on this story below.

Photo courtesy of the Wildwood Historical Society/ North Wildwood beach patrol in 2001. Photo courtesy of the Wildwood Historical Society/ North Wildwood beach patrol in 2001. Photo by Christie Rotondo/The Wildwood Historical Society has this 1932 NWBP uniform on hand, which was donated by Louise Barber McHugh. Photo by Christie Rotondo/The Wildwood Historical Society has this 1932 NWBP uniform on hand, which was donated by Louise Barber McHugh.


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