New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been criticizing Atlantic City for continuing to offer pensions to lifeguards despite the city being so short on money.  Sunday, the gambling and resort town was dealing with another shortfall — not enough lifeguards.

For the first time in three years, Atlantic City held open tryouts for new lifeguards.  Lt. John Ammerman of the A.C. Beach Patrol said the patrol usually looks to youth when they are short staffed.

"This beach runs on new blood — youth athletes, swimmers, rowers, runners, coming from the local colleges and high schools," Ammerman said.  "We haven't have [tryouts] in three years, we lose kids every year and we haven't been able to replenish."

The job pays $100 a day, and, once hired, lifeguards often stay on for years, as long as they continue to meet the fitness requirements.  

More than three dozen would-be lifeguards showed up Sunday to "practice" swimming in the pool, running on the beach, and rowing, which Ammerman says is difficult for even the best athletes.

"We had people show up thinking it was like guarding a swimming pool, and the first time they got in the boat, popped those oars out and looked over their shoulder and saw a wave coming, they found out this job is different," he said. "Some people can do it — and some people can't — and that's what we're here to find out."

Testing themselves

At the sound of a whistle, the aspiring lifeguards dove into the waves for 500-meter swim.

Louis Parks finished first, but was completely out of breath.

"It was nice, rough out there but not too bad, nothing that we can't handle," he said.

Sixteen-year-old Ryan Moyle of Atlantic City was on the swim team at Holy Spirit High School. He said he was excited about becoming a lifeguard.

"I feel like it's the best job I can get for my age," he said. "Around here, it's just a great job to be on the beach every day."

Ryan was on the young side of those trying out. At 55, Tim Scholl was the oldest. Even though he was 20 years past the maximum age for the job, School said he still wanted to prove he could do it.

"I did about 25 years with the Atlantic County sheriff's office, retired as a lieutenant," he said.   Scholl didn't make it through the swim, complaining of a leg cramp and was brought to shore by a lifeguard on a jet ski.

After the swim, the guards took to the boats to demonstrate their prowess with the oars. Finally, like the Miss America competition, there is a personal interview. Ammerman said questions are designed to test the personality of the potential guards.

"For years, when you get sworn in, we were told you are ambassadors of good will with the city. People that come in to the city for the summertime they are much more likely to communicate with a lifeguard than a police officer or a firefighter," he said. "They come to the beach, they want to know where to go at night, where to eat, what's going on in the city, where to park — they typically ask a lifeguard."

The results of the testing will be known later this week.