West Hawaii lifeguards complete recertification

  • West Hawaii’s lifeguards after completing the USLA recertification. Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today

  • Kaula Pilago and Kealii Garmon fist bump as they leave the ocean after completing the swimming portion of their recertification. Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today

  • Daniel Kniseley leads the pack nearing the end of the 1000-yard run of Monday’s USLA recertification for lifeguards at Hapuna Beach. Kniseley posted the fastest time of the day with a time of 17:03. Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, West Hawaii’s lifeguards were greeted with a bit of normalcy Monday morning.

Seventeen lifeguards gathered at Hapuna Beach for their annual United States Lifesaving Association recertification; all 17 passed, completing the 1,000-yard run and 1,000-yard swim in less than 25 minutes, followed by a 400-meter paddle in under four minutes and 30 seconds.

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“We have a great group of guys; these guys are unreal,” said Hawaii Fire Department Ocean Safety Division Capt. Ricky Alvarez. “I’m blessed to be part of this group and honored to do the job. I really appreciate these guys for what they do.”

As essential workers, Hawaii’s lifeguards have been working through the pandemic, minimizing beach activity since Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order was put in place at the end of March. Despite social distancing’s success in flattening the curve, some remain concerned with their everyday work environment at the beach.

“They don’t want to bring anything home to their families; for me as a supervisor, I don’t want them to catch anything,” added Alvarez. “But we still have our jobs to do. We’ve still got to respond to calls, we’ve still got to respond to rescues, interact with people and make sure we’re doing our job as ocean safety officers.”

Despite the concerns, Alvarez maintains how lucky Hawaii residents are to still be able to enjoy the ocean, given how many places around the country and the globe have allowed zero beach access. A lack of tourists has opened up plenty of space at beaches across the island, and the difference reminds Alvarez of a Hawaii from the past.

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“The truth is, it’s nice; I think Hawaii needed a break from tourism, which is really sad to say it had to take something like this to see the difference… to see it like how it used to be with old Hawaii,” said Alvarez. Still, the time will come when tourists return to West Hawaii’s beaches. When it does, the public can be assured their lifeguards will be prepared.

“There’s going to be a time where the numbers will go up dramatically; they’re ready for it…” said Alvarez. “The community is in good hands.”

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