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Run, Swim, Paddle…
Glenn Warren | 27th Street

from left: Eric Sandy and Jake Keville.
Photo Glenn Warren.
Click to enlarge.

When Eric Sandy joined the City of Del Mar as a parking and animal enforcement officer in 1972 (working alongside lifeguards), the only requirements to become a lifeguard were filling out an application and passing a swimming test at the Torrey Pines Lodge. Nowadays, the process is a bit more rigorous. Applicants must pass a run, swim, run and paddleboard test, and then be interviewed. Chief lifeguard Jon Edelbrock says Del Mar is also looking for individuals with self-confidence and strong interpersonal skills, who can function well as part of a team.

Del Mar has 50 lifeguards: five permanent and forty-five part-time. Each May, Edelbrock and senior personnel conduct a training “academy” for new hires. Depending on need, there are 8-12 individuals selected from an applicant pool of 30-40. Not surprisingly, they generally come from a water-oriented background, e.g., surfing, swimming, and water polo. Most are from 16-20 years of age, although there may be 40-50 year-olds; the oldest this year is 36.

Lifeguard Training Class.
Photo Mike Emerson.
Click to enlarge.

Training takes place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in May. Trainees are taught tube and paddleboard rescue; how to watch the water; customer service, which includes dealing with the public, creating surf reports, and school presentations and learning relevant parts of the municipal code. As part of the program, Eric Sandy, who has experience in mediation and dispute resolution, runs a workshop on dealing with difficult people. He notes that for many of the younger people, working as a lifeguard will be their first experience in a position of authority. Jake Keville, who is 19 and began lifeguarding a year ago, observes that one of the most recurring issues in contact with the public is dogs on the beach. Dog owners are “passionate” about their dogs and tact is necessary when dealing with them (the owners, that is).

During the summer, trainees shadow an experienced lifeguard to learn the ropes. Afterwards, they’re eligible to be hired as a regular lifeguard (the minimum age is 18).

According to Edelbrock, Del Mar is the only coastal city that conducts its own training. (Other cities draw lifeguards from regional training programs conducted by Miramar College.) This fosters teamwork and comradery from the beginning, and enables trainees to learn about beach issues unique to Del Mar.

Most Del Mar lifeguards work on a seasonal and/or part time basis for 5-6 years (mostly while going to school), although a number work much longer. For some, it can be a life-changing experience—an impetus perhaps to go into medicine or science. For all, it is an opportunity to work in a beautiful area, form lifelong friendships, and provide an important public service. On the flip side, Del Mar is fortunate to have a lifeguard program comprised of individuals whom Eric Sandy, who still works as an enforcement officer, calls “consistently, absolutely stellar.”

 

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