SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. — After 57 summers with a whistle around his neck and sand on his toes, "Captain" John Boyd scowls at the notion that lifeguards are mindless hulks who ogle bikini-clad girls on the beach.
"My guys know that when action comes, it's life or death out there," the 77-year-old Boyd said. "It's not as fun as you think. It's a great responsibility."
Boyd removed a well-chewed cigar from his mouth and grudgingly acknowledged that a good tan and lots of adoring girls are "added attractions."
With binoculars always in his hands and a white captain's hat on his white hair, the muscular Boyd scans the sand and surveys the water. But he does more than just watch for foundering swimmers or sharks.
If Boyd's eyes pass over a kissing couple getting a little too passionate for his "family beach," he turns on his public address system and lowers his voice to a growl--"his God voice," lifeguard Richard Phillips said.
"Promiscuous necking will not be tolerated on this beach," Boyd booms into the microphone.
"The Captain," as he is called, sits back with a grin.
"Four thousand people always get up and look around after I do that," he said. "And the offending couple dives under the blanket."
Lost children are routine. With nothing but a never-empty coffee pot in his office, he will take the weeping child to a boardwalk snack bar for ice cream. Then he turns on the PA again to page the frantic parent seeking the child.
"We never have any left over here at the end of the day," he said.
In all the years he has been boss of the beach, Boyd said, Seaside Heights never has seen a drowning and only "one or two" people have needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
No Splinter Removal
His days of removing boardwalk splinters are gone, though, because of the risk of infections and possible lawsuits. "We used to take 'em out by the dozens," he said.
Boyd's most renowned announcement comes at 5:30 p.m., when the beach closes.
"Clear the water. Clear the water. Beaches are closed for the day. If a life is lost, it may be one of yours. Drive safely. Come back soon. God bless America. Pack it up."
The words rarely change from day to day, Phillips said.
Boyd has been on the beach in Seaside Heights almost every summer of his life, seven days a week, except for his years in the Navy during World War II.
Even there, the military drew upon his lifeguard background, putting him in charge of water survival training.
In the winters before he retired, Boyd, father of two, taught physical education at Atlantic City High School.
Most Are College Students
But every April, the Captain still assembles his "troops." Most of his 26 lifeguards are college students, but among his veterans are doctors, a steelworker, a police officer, a state trooper and a detective.
The rookies who pass a vigorous swim test are issued regulation red tank tops and paired off, newcomers assigned with veterans.
"A guy is productive after about three years," Boyd said, "when they learn to read the run and the currents."
Boyd then sits back in his chair or strolls on the command center porch, watching his lifeguards behind his sunglasses, in constant contact with each chair by telephone.
"If one of them is talking to a bikini too long, I get on the horn," he said.