Stuart Gates’ college major included rock climbing and sea kayaking classes. He worked as a ski instructor in Colorado and recently became a father. But the 28-year-old’s decision to become the new beach director at Chautauqua Institution was simple.
“I decided it was time to come home,” Gates said. “I found this job, which is right up my alley. I like the seasonal work and switching it up throughout the year.”
His role as beach director will see Gates return to Chautauqua County, where he grew up about 30 minutes from the Institution in nearby Brocton, New York. Supervising the four beaches located on the grounds, Gates will be in charge of the lifeguard staff at each location.
His unconventional path back home began with a major in expeditionary studies from SUNY Plattsburgh. In college, Gates focused on rock and ice climbing, sea kayaking and backcountry skiing, all part of what he called “a growing industry.”
“I came back and worked a real job for a year, before deciding that wasn’t for me,” Gates said. “I ended up moving out to Colorado to become a ski school instructor and then moved my way up and became a supervisor out there in the winters.”
But even in Colorado, Gates was never far from the water, as he taught swim lessons, worked as a lifeguard and coached a swim team.
When the opportunity arose to come home for the summer, Gates decided to return to the shores of Chautauqua Lake. This summer will be his first at the Institution.
“I never really came here as a kid. The first time I stepped foot on the grounds was about three weeks ago,” Gates said. “It’s like a unique little community.”
But there’s nothing little about the role Gates will be taking on this summer.
His responsibilities extend from University Beach, directly below the President’s Cottage, all the way down to Heinz Beach by the Youth Activities Center.
“He’ll be busy this summer,” said Director of Recreation Meg Pickard. “He physically has the largest territory of all the rec areas, even slightly eclipsing golf.”
Gates has already begun preparing Chautauqua’s beaches for the heavy traffic of the summer months. This week, lifeguards were busy clearing seaweed in different swimming areas around Chautauqua Lake.
Every beach on the ground has different characteristics, but even before his first summer, Gates said he has an idea of what to expect from each one.
“University Beach is great because it has a rockier bottom, which means the seaweed doesn’t grow as much, so that one is really clear,” Gates said. “Children’s Beach has enough sand and gets enough traffic that [seaweed] can’t really grow back.”
With so many beaches under his supervision, ensuring the safety of swimmers is a large part of Gates’ job. The lifeguard office has several emergency bikes that allow guards to travel across the grounds in order to provide assistance.
Three lifeguards are stationed at Children’s Beach and Pier Beach, with no lifeguard at any beach working for more than hour, something that Gates said was one of his goals this summer.
“They’re never on duty for more than a hour,” Gates said. “If you’re on the stand for more than a hour, then focus starts to go away a little bit, and we want to make sure it’s safe for everybody.”
The beaches at Chautauqua are open every day, with Children’s Beach and Pier Beach open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and University Beach and Heinz Beach open from noon to 5 p.m.