Have Fun this Summer with San Diego Junior Lifeguards
Every summer thousands of kids in Junior Lifeguard uniforms gather at San Diego beaches for a fun-filled, formative experience. Whether swimming out to an offshore buoy, distance running in the sand, paddling through the surf, or competing in a game of beach flags, these kids are learning about ocean safety and the ocean environment while having the time of their lives.
What to Expect
Junior Lifeguard (JG) programs are offered through both city and state beaches. Kids ages 9–17 are instructed and supervised by certified, experienced ocean lifeguards, many of whom are JG alumni. Each location’s program varies in terms of daily activities, schedules, special excursions, seasonal traditions and competitions, but all emphasize one basic theme—to provide essential ocean safety education in a fun, recreational environment.
“We think it’s very important for kids in San Diego, who are this close to the ocean, to be water-savvy,” says James Murphy, manager of the City of San Diego JGs.
While the JG program is designed to teach ocean safety, it is not a forum for actually learning to swim. New participants are required to pass a swim test upon enrollment. Program requirements vary, but most include a 100-yard timed swim, treading water and an underwater swim.
A Typical Day
The typical day of a Junior Lifeguard varies, but generally begins with warm-up and stretching, followed by the daily “vitamin”—some combination of swimming, running and/or paddling. “We tell them it is called a vitamin because it is good to get a work out in on a daily basis, just like taking your vitamins,” says Oceanside lifeguard sergeant Mason Turvey.
A key component is the daily lecture on ocean safety. Bill Feeney, director of Solana Beach JGs, says, “We want to make sure the kids are getting age-appropriate instruction in issues that are critical to this community—bluff safety, rip current knowledge and awareness, sun protection and education on the wildlife and environment of the beach.” Other instructive lessons might include information on waves, tides, basic first aid or CPR, often paired with related, physical activities to emphasize the important safety messages.
Fitness is another focus of the program. Along with individual lifeguard skill development, kids participate in team relay races and large-scale group games, such as beach flags, dodge ball or capture the flag.
Free swim is often the most popular time of day. Participants can swim, body board, build sandcastles, play in the waves or even learn to surf. Occasional field trips are also eagerly anticipated. Many JGs visit La Jolla Cove for snorkeling and cave exploration, while others spend time at local water parks.
Some locations offer a single month-long summer session, while others offer a variety of shorter sessions, dates and times. Some have 5-hour days, others have 3-hour days with choice of morning or afternoon. Modified programs for 7/8-year-olds are also available, such as Junior Grommets in San Diego or Little Turtles in Del Mar. A number of programs offer volunteer aid positions or paid internships for returning teens.
At some point during most sessions, there is a competition day to showcase participants’ new and improved skills. This day involves a series of traditional lifeguard events including distance run, distance swim, run-swim-run, beach flags, distance paddle and team relays. Some of these competitions are organized in-house, others are regional or even statewide. Families are always invited to cheer on the kids.
“Competition days are some of the most fun and memorable days on the beach,” says Del Mar JG director, Turtle Rudolph.
Consider enrolling your child in a summer of ocean safety and beach fun. It’s sure to provide greater confidence and enjoyment of the water, new friendships, improved fitness and sleepy (but happy!) kids each night. As Coronado lifeguard captain Sean Carey says, “It will truly be a summer your kids will never forget.”
Lisa Pawlak is an Encinitas resident, freelance writer and mother of two JGs. She is a regular contributor to San Diego Family Magazine.