Jones Beach Boys doesn’t know what it’s about. Ron Colby, the director, introduces his documentary as his own trip back to Jones Beach in New York. He sets up the question of why he returned without really addressing it. The movie is frontloaded with his narration: once it gets going, he lets his subjects steal the show.

As with almost any documentary, the people save it. These people live in an alternate universe. It’s why we’re watching, why multiple news stories have been made about the Jones Beach lifeguards, and why anyone who watches this movie will want to no-show their job, punch in Jones Beach, NY on Google Maps, and throw their phone in the ocean as soon as they get there. Jones Beach, we are told, is home to the oldest and longest-serving lifeguard on the planet. This is what the film is about: the tides of time, the odd little colony of people fighting against it, and the younger generation being trained by today’s greats. Colby knew it when he came here, he just has trouble saying it.

Lifeguards come back to Jones Beach every year to resume their post. No one interviewed had been there for less than 3 years, and half the subjects were on their 10th season or more. Colby is an old guard himself, so he has easier access to his peers, but I think part of it is that there just aren’t many slots left. People keep coming back. It’s just a summer job, and even a summer-weekend job for some. An incredible mix of teachers, firefighters, dentists, lawyers, and avionics engineers are Jones Beach Boys or Beach Girls. Most of them would trade it all for year-round lifeguarding if they could.

Each year, the journey gets harder. There is no credit for time served. After the first year, everyone must pass the returning-guard test. There are no re-dos. What’s easy for a svelte 19 year old is an Olympic-level performance for a 65 year old. More than the surfing and stunts, the most jawdropping part of Jones Beach Boys is watching 70-year-old men working out. They are clinging to their post with everything they have.

As with almost any documentary, what stops this from being one for the ages is the person behind the camera. He doesn’t ask the right questions, and the story threads could’ve been more refined. Maybe some lines of inquiry should have been dropped altogether. There’s an interesting but tenuous connection to 9/11, and by the time Colby double-dips on it, he lost me.

One of the plot threads is masculinity, and one of the unintentional sub-threads is toxic masculinity. Some of these old people are wearing masks of inclusion, and the masks slip around Colby, who is a lifeguard from the old days. This is some of the most fascinating material of the movie, but Colby is too close to it to realize or ask follow-up questions. One of the guards tells a story about how way back when, a senior guard beat the shit out of a younger guard with a wooden buoy for some mistake. Some of the guards seem to hate that women can now be guards, and the discrimination they faced to become guards isn’t detailed enough. The same thing that draws people to lifeguarding draws them to military service. Or they are drafted into it and die before they can come back. Anti-war sentiment comes out in one comment, but the question is not examined with the thoroughness it deserves.

Like sand and seaweed, Jones Beach Boys clings to you. It starts off looking micro-budget and indie, because it is. It starts out feeling like a waste of time, which it absolutely isn’t. There is something to learn from this film. It shows a bizarre commune of people of all backgrounds, united each summer by this beach out of time. At the end, one lifeguard packs his Winnebago for Florida. Does he have room for one more?