The art of lifeguarding

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Rain or shine, lifeguards are on the job.


Rain or shine, lifeguards are on the job.

That includes junior lifeguards, who gathered at Bayfront on an overcast and rainy Thursday morning for a runthrough of the events that make up a typical lifeguarding competition. The 19 boys and girls, who ranged in age from 12 to 17, stood at the shoreline, going through warm-ups, such as jumping jacks, arm circles and push-ups with instructor and county lifeguard Pono Kodani.

The two-week program teaches the basics of ocean rescue, from paddleboarding to reading ocean currents.

“It’s more of an educational tool to create awareness and respect for the ocean, and everything that it entails,” said East Hawaii fire captain John Baehr. The program is sponsored by the county fire department’s ocean safety division.

Junior lifeguarding isn’t for beginners — kids are expected to have strong swimming skills already. The first day kicks off with a 200-meter qualifying swim.

On Thursday, the group bookended a 100-meter swim with 100-meter dashes: running is nearly as important as swimming.

“2:31, 2:31 — good job,” Kodani said as a pair rushed by him. “2:52 — outstanding.”

“It’s a lot of conditioning and training,” he explained at the end of the session, after his group had completed a paddleboard relay. “That’s the basic part: conditioning.”

From the basics, the group is able to move on to more complicated skills: “How to get an unconscious person to land, and how to rescue people,” as 13-year-old Keli Hanley explained.

Part of lifeguard training focuses on keeping the rescuer safe as well. It’s hard to save someone if you put yourself in danger first.

“We like to focus on prevention and we like to act safely,” Baehr said. “That’s really what we would hope to instill in the kids who come through.”

“My parents made me sign up, but I like it,” said Aidan Piinaia, 12. He was hard-pressed to pick a favorite part of the program, instead saying he liked “everything.”

Hanley said she was a fan of the open-ocean swims.

The group visits different beaches during the program to learn about the conditions at each spot. Next week, they’ll host the Ka‘u and Puna junior lifeguard programs for a mini-competition.

This year, the statewide junior lifeguard competition will be hosted at Hapuna Bay. Baehr said he expects the Big Island’s contingent to do well.

Besides serving as a means to educate kids about ocean safety, the junior lifeguard program can be a starting point for an eventual career. Three of the 26 full-time East Hawaii lifeguards came up through the junior ranks into their current positions.


In the future, Baehr also hopes to get a mentoring program off the ground for teens interested in lifeguarding. A second Hilo-based junior lifeguard session begins July 6.

E-mail Ivy Ashe at

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