Lifeguard tournaments at the Jersey Shore are as much a summer tradition as Kohr’s ice cream or an evening game of miniature golf. But since Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012, badly-battered Ortley Beach has not hosted its annual Bush Classic tournament – named for former longtime Toms River lifeguard supervisor Peter Bush.
That all changed last week, when Ortley Beach hosted the Bush Classic for the first time since the storm.
“It was great to get back out there again and be on our home turf for this tournament,” said Ortley Beach Lifeguard Sgt. Kevin Koenigstein. “We have been waiting since Sandy to be able to host this again on our beaches. The event was an all-around success, from the weather to the competition to the crowds.”
The hometown beach patrol didn’t win the event, with squads from Long Beach Island – Harvey Cedars, Barnegat Light and Ship Bottom – taking the top three spots. But Ortley’s guards placed fourth out of eight teams, just a few days after taking first place in a tournament held in Seaside Park. Guards competed in open swim, surf medley, paddle relay, boat relay and 1,000 meter row.
“The enthusiasm from the crowd was great, the competition was intense,” said Toms River Councilman Al Manforti, who watched from the beach.
Ortley Beach lifeguards are participating in two more tournaments this month – last night they headed to the Midway Beach Lifeguard Tournament in South Seaside Park, and they will be participating in the Island Beach State Park competition Aug. 10.
Ortley’s beaches were severely compromised in Sandy, with the neighborhood widely having been called “ground zero” after the storm struck. The lifeguard headquarters had to be completely rebuilt following the storm, and recovery work on the township’s oceanfront is still underway.