Junior lifeguarding: Kona doesn’t let guard down, dethrones Hilo

Saving a life must be some kind of indescribable, out-of-this-world feeling.

For Ryan McGuckin and his colleagues in water safety, teaching someone to save a life could be even more gratifying.

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It gets him every time when one of his former students from the Hawaii Fire Department’s junior lifeguard program in Kailua-Kona tells him he’s done just that.

“Kids will come up to me and say they rescued someone, or helped someone in a cave or helped tourists on the rocks,” McGuckin said. “They’ll say, ‘We just used your techniques.’ Just to know they’re using our rescue techniques and how hard it can be is pretty fulfilling year in and year out.”

Tangible or otherwise, the long-term benefits of the program, which ran in June in Hilo, Hapuna Beach, Puna and Kona for ages 12-17, are clear: teamwork, camaraderie, fitness, ocean-safety knowledge, rescue skills, communication, just to name a few.

“I never got to do it growing up,” said McGuckin, a 2005 Kealakehe graduate who is posted at Magic Sands Beach on Alii Drive. “And now that I get to be an instructor, I feel like I missed out.

“It’s program that I feel is needed. If you’re from here or visit, you need to have some form of ocean knowledge.”

There are short-term benefits to the program as well, and those were on display last Saturday during a healthy competition at Hapuna, where, after a spirited battle, Kona unseated three-time champion Hilo at the island’s junior lifeguard championships.

Hilo’s Xochi Gervais was one of the powerhouses of the day, taking either first or second in each event and earning the award for most points accumulated of the 80-plus fellow competitors.

In the end, the side of the island that is home to the world’s most famous triathlon won a competition that included two mini-triathlons, a run-swim-run and a run-swim-paddleboard. Hapuna finished third and Puna fourth.

In addition to a solo run and a solo swim, there was also a paddleboard relay and beach flags, a musical chairs-like endeavor.

“A lot of my kids grew up swimming and surfing, so they should be good on a board,” McGuckin said. “I had a couple of new kids who were dedicated and worked hard.”

A handful who stood out for Kona were Nolan Morton and Finn Morton, who where each MVPs in their age groups, and Ila Henry, who claimed beach flags in the younger and older divisions. Malikai Hartman claimed boys 15-17 flags and Jayden Hall “really pushed herself and was a younger girl who really stepped up in the older division.”

With its white sandy beach and big pavilions, Hapuna, he said, is the perfect venue for competitions such as this. Kona trains at a Kahaluu, which, with its rocks, corral and weird angles, has a way of hardening youngsters for competition, McGuckin said.

A select group from the Big Island is slated to compete at the state championship July 27 on Oahu, though fundraising efforts are ongoing. The Big Island beat Maui last year and finished behind Kauai, which has a strong program, and Oahu.

“We are actively working with our chiefs to send these well-deserved kids to states,” said Pono Kodani, who helps run Hilo’s program.

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McGuckin figures every youngster who earned a spot should have a chance to compete at the state event, and who could argue?

One of them could save your life one day.

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