More than 30 lifeguards ran, dove and swam at Isle of Palms County Park on Friday morning, but nobody at the beach needed help.

The guards from Charleston County beaches and waterparks and Mount Pleasant town pools competed in the 17th annual South Carolina Recreation and Park Association Lifeguard Competition.

Eight teams of four lifeguards each competed in beach and pool drills throughout the day.

There were physical fitness tests and medical emergency simulations as well as lighter-hearted competitions like "beach flags," a musical chairs-style race to capture pieces of hose stuck in the sand.

After phases of beach and pool competition, a team from Charleston County Parks and Recreation lifeguards claimed the top prize, scoring 174 points in individual and team events.

Many lifeguards' favorite part of the competition is the beach flags, which left every contestant coated in sand from diving into the dunes.

Michelle Lussier, a guard at Whirlin' Waters in North Charleston, likes beach flags, but her best event Friday was the mile run.

Lussier, a cross-country runner at Clemson University, came in second in the women's race.

The annual competition is a motivator for many area lifeguards to constantly improve their skills, according to Cole Thomas, assistant manager of the county park.

"Teams have been practicing since May," Thomas said. "They'll get together before or after work to practice. They get really into it."

While Lussier and her co-workers at Whirlin' Waters practice lifeguarding basics every morning before the park opens, the competition gave them extra incentive to get everything perfect.

"People get really competitive, and we've been practicing extra," Lussier said. "It makes us perfectionists."

Lifeguards often have a "competitive nature," Thomas said, making the contest heat up.

"They might throw some elbows," Thomas said.

The competition also gives lifeguards, who often catch flak from swimmers for enforcing the rules, the chance to have some fun, said Jeff Garrard, aquatics director of the Mount Pleasant Recreation department.

"These guys have a huge responsibility, and they're just kids themselves. That's special," Garrard said. "This is a day when they get to do their thing and have people see what they've got."

Reach Amanda Coyne at 937-5592 or on Twitter at @AmandaCCoyne