Young Voices: Lifeguard Leadership

The Sandpiper happily introduces our new intern, Issie Barrett.


We’ve all seen the movies. Tan, shirtless lifeguards dressed in red, running in slow motion before diving off the motorboat and into the water. Sure, lifeguarding might be tough, but look at how electrifying the job is, right? But being a lifeguard, like so many EMS (Emergency Medical Services) jobs, is not as glamorous as Baywatch paints it to be.


With an average of 800 water-related rescues and 1,100 medical aids per year, being a Del Mar lifeguard isn’t easy. The burden of such a responsibility is a heavy one to bear, yet lifeguards love their job.


“Some people love the ocean…people that are ocean people live, play, work, eat, sleep, breathe the ocean. Lifeguarding is a good career that allows you to be in the environment that you love so much,” said Sean Hogan, one of four full-time lifeguards. “It’s definitely a calling—and a lifestyle.”

The Del Mar Lifeguards first set up in 1965. Here they are in front of their 1960 Chevrolet truck. Front - Jack Ross, Gardner Stevens (first chief), Ron Jensen. Back - Paul Krause, Gerry Meir, and Peter Critchlow. Courtesy Larry Brooks and the Del Mar Historical Society.

Though lifeguards may seem like the epitome of Southern Californians, with their top-shape health and friendly manner, they cannot do the one thing we all come to the beach to do: relax.


“A lot of lifeguards learn how to be very observant of their environment,” said Hogan. “They’re always paying attention to detail, and that’s a skill that is learned.”


In a practice called “preventative lifeguarding,” lifeguards try to spot the problem before it even happens. They constantly scan the coast with binoculars, and every thirty minutes, they conduct patrols.


“People’s perception is that we’re just going for a cruise. But in reality, we’re waiting for situations to arise because in this line of work, everything happens very very quickly, and it can go from 0-100 in the snap of a finger,” Hogan said.


With finding missing children, remedying stingray and jellyfish stings, swimming 20 feet out in a rip current, and dealing with the dead, lifeguards are kept quite busy. Added to that is the customer service aspect of handling upset parents, crying children, and panicked swimmers. Lifeguarding is a multifaceted job, requiring incredible amounts of passion, determination, and skill. But Hogan says “that’s just what a rescuer does. They help people when nobody else can.”


Finally, Hogan warns readers that “the number one thing that kills people in rip currents is panicking. People don’t realize that saltwater is denser than freshwater, and if all else fails you can lay on your back and float, and not expend a lot of energy and not panic. There’s this fear of the ocean as an endless abyss, but generally, the depth of the water where rip currents occur is going to be no deeper than 8 feet of water. It’s pretty much the same as a swimming pool, if not shallower.”