Lifestyle: Haute Spot

Haute Spot

By Dawn Watson - June 26, 2021

Locals ‘Waterproof’ East Hampton Town

One of the East End’s most desirable natural features can also potentially be its most deadly. Boasting some of the nation’s best beaches, we’ve got miles and miles of coastline. But for all that the ocean offers, there is an ever-present danger that lurks just beneath the surface. Rip tides can kill. And people die in the water every day. 

Fortunately for those who trek to the beaches and 70 miles of coastline in East Hampton Town, the men and women of the Hampton Lifeguard Association and East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue are here to help. 

Doing their part to “waterproof” the community, the groups have made it their mission to keep beachgoers safe. And now, their efforts can be seen all around the world, as the focus of the award-winning documentary film, Waterproof, by Academy Award-winning director, producer, cinematographer and editor Ross Kauffman. 

The short documentary features the legendary Lifeguard Association and Ocean Rescue co-founder “Big John” Ryan, his son, East Hampton Town Chief Lifeguard John Ryan Jr., and a number of locals, including several members of the Ryan family; Ocean Rescue Squad Assistant Captain TJ Calabrese; lifeguards Thomas Brierley, Ed Reid and Ben Fuerst; East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez; and East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo; among others. 

Premiering at the Hamptons International Film Festival before the pandemic, the short was produced by artist Mae Mougin, a lieutenant in the Ocean Rescue Squad’s Auxiliary. The Southampton Town resident spent a decade trying to get the film made, and is currently working on getting it shown in more theaters out East. The film most recently earned honors at the Santa Monica Shorts film festival. 

“I’ve always loved the water,” says Mougin. “There’s something healing about the ocean. It’s saved me.”

Her passion for the subject matter led her to Regina Scully at Artemis Rising Foundation, who signed on as Executive Producer for the film, and to Mr. Kauffman, whose film Born Into Brothels, won both the Oscar® and Emmy for Best Documentary. Soon after taking on the project, Kauffman realized there was much more to the story than just water safety. 

“Mae came to me with this idea about making a film about lifeguards in East Hampton and the effort to create a safe environment in the oceans and pools around the tip of Long Island,” he recalls. But once he got underway, the filmmaker realized there was so much more depth to discover in the story. 

“While the idea of a film about ocean safety was interesting, it wasn’t until I met the Ryan family and the community that I thought we could potentially make something very special,” he says. 

Featuring the people who make up the Volunteer Rescue Squad and what they’ve done to make East Hampton safer, the film focuses on these “lifeguards for life.” The end result is a story of “community, shared experience and sacrifice for the greater good — what it takes to make our lives more meaningful and fulfilling,” says Kauffman.

The documentary takes the viewer along on a deeper journey, one that’s beyond the camaraderie of the squad and their efforts to save so many. It also serves as a reminder that sometimes, despite best efforts, bad things can happen. “We’re trained to think we’re invincible. We’re not. At all,” says Mr. Brierley in the film. “We’re at the mercy of the ocean.”  

But not on his watch, if he can help it, says Big John, who has led thousands of people safely in and out of the water since becoming a lifeguard almost 70 years ago. “Can we make it safer? Can we do it,” he asks while being interviewed in the film. “Yeah, we can do it!”

To learn more about “Waterproof,” visit For additional information about East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue, visit

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