L.A. Junior Lifeguards Program Teaches Ocean Safety

By Laura Carr
Palisades News Intern

If you drive by Tower 15 at Will Rogers State Beach on any given weekday during the month of July or August, you’ll notice a large group of beachgoers clad in matching navy swimsuits. The sight is similar to a typical summer beach camp, except for the fact that the young men and women who are on this particular stretch of sand are Junior Lifeguards (JGs).

JGs is a youth program for children ages 9 to 17 that the Los Angeles County Fire Department offers during the summer. JG Director Jeffrey Little said that the program started “at least 50 years ago” but that it fell into obscurity for a while until the program saw a resurgence in the 1980s. The program has grown progressively ever since. This year there are more than 4,000 individuals participating in the program.

Junior lifeguards are taught all aspects of ocean safety. Photo: Laura Carr
Junior lifeguards are taught all aspects of ocean safety.
Photo: Laura Carr












Little said, “It was started to equip the community and youth with ocean safety awareness and also to teach up the youth with the hope of them becoming lifeguards. It really exposes them to what lifeguards do.”

New JGs must pass a 100-yard swim test in order to qualify for the program. A C-group swimmer (9 to 11 year olds) must swim a time of 1:50 or under, a B-group swimmer (12-13 year olds) must finish in under 1:40 and the A group-swimmer (14-17 year olds) needs to finish in under 1:30. Former JG and Palisadian Jordan Wilimovsky, who did not make the C-time cut when he first tried out for JGs, will be swimming the 1500-meter freestyle and the open water swim at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this month.

The JG program, which has locations at 12 different beaches across LA County, includes a competition aspect. Each beach has the opportunity to compete against other beaches.

Assistant Director Brian Murphy, who helps organize the competitions, said, “Junior Lifeguard competitions are intended to reflect the skills the kids learn in a typical summer. These skills include ocean swimming, rescue paddle boards, and beach running. Occasionally the JGs will compete in a rescue race, in which one JG is a compliant ‘victim’ and the other is the ‘rescuer.’”

JGs culminates with the Taplin Relays on July 29. “This is a multi-discipline relay consisting of six runners, six paddlers and six swimmers. The event takes about 45 minutes to complete depending on the size of the waves that day,”Murphy said.“Like their lifeguard role models who have been competing in the adult version since the 1940s, the JGs negotiate the ocean conditions as efficiently as possible. These skills are taught, drilled and executed every day at Junior Lifeguards to help ensure we produce ocean savvy young people, capable of self-reliance in the ocean.”

Little described a typical day at Junior Lifeguards as, “comprised of a physical warm-up, the focus on the JG program is swimming in the water, and so that’s really the main focus. They’ll do at least one water event, they’ll be in the water at least 2-3 times minimum. That might be a buoy Swim, paddle boarding, surfing.

“We have land-based activities,” Little said. “There are some beach games, but we don’t do that as much, but like running, calisthenics, pushups, sit-ups, usually there’s some type of lesson on life guard operations or a CPR lecture. It’s only three hours, so it usually goes very quickly.”

Before all of the activities begin the JGs do a safety check of the ocean. “We call it a bottom check,” Little said. “JGs and the instructors go and walk in the water and look for holes on the ocean contour and they start looking and feeling for the rip currents and which way the currents are running, getting a gauge on the strength of the swell and the surf. It really gives them the knowledge if they’re doing the competition of the kinds of strategies to make.”

The instructors also teach the JGs the core values of the Los Angeles County Fire Department: integrity, teamwork, community, commitment, courage and caring.“We build a lot of our lectures and lessons around those things and doing the right thing,” Little said. The program in Pacific Palisades is based at Will Rogers State Beach. “I would say in the last 10 years, they’ve seen a lot more growth at Will Rogers,” Little said. “We don’t do any advertising, it’s all word of mouth. That’s a testament to the fantastic job that the instructors have done there.”

There are two sessions of JGs. The first session runs from June 27 to July 29, while the second begins on August 1 and ends on August 27. This is the third year that JGs has offered an August session.

The A group, led by Chuck Locko and Lance Keene, had 90 kids in this session. Kelci Barnes, Sarah Burris and Sara Gul- lickson lead a group of 120 B’s, and Mara Silka, Cheri Ellington and Lacey Beattie guided a group of 120 C’s.

Most JGs say that their favorite part about the program is being around friends. Ava Sahebi, 15, said,“I like the swims and being with my friends. I’m not really a runner or a swimmer, I just do this as a fun summer activity.”

Ian Hutchinson, 14, added, “All of my peers doing it are really supportive because they help me through anything if I have any difficulties. There are other junior guards struggling and succeeding at the same things that I am.”

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