SPORTS CAMPS : Lifeguard Attempts to Dispel False 'Hollywood' Image by Teaching Youths and Saving Lives

Compiled by Ralph Nichols

Mark Valance has more than one responsibility as an L.A. County lifeguard. Besides saving lives, he is also trying to dispel some myths.

"People tend to think of the Hollywood image of the lifeguard as someone who hangs around the beach and doesn't do anything and that's not true," said Valance, who lives in Thousand Oaks. "We deal with literally millions of people a year. A south swell was running over Easter Vacation and we were understaffed and working our butts off making rescues."

Dispelling myths is just one of Valance's jobs as a teacher in the county's junior lifeguard program, a unique summer camp for youths ages 10 to 17. The program will begin June 29 and Valance will spend the next six weeks teaching swimming and surfing skills as well as beach safety, first aid, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation and marine life.

Youths must pass a timed swimming test to qualify for the program. A $105 fee includes registration and uniforms. Physical conditioning will be stressed throughout the program and participants can qualify for a national junior lifeguard competition in Hawaii in August.

Valance considers the program good training for youths interested in becoming a lifeguard.

"The one thing I really have them recognize is how to read the ocean, from lateral currents to riptides to how to help somebody in the water," he said. "This program really helps to build confidence because it's not easy. The physical part of it helps the kids enormously."

In addition to instructing junior lifeguards, Valance will compete this summer in the Bud Light Ocean Festival Series, a 10-event series of international lifeguard competitions. Valance and lifeguard Paul Donohue, also of Thousand Oaks, will compete in events such as a two-man boat race and an "ironman" competition which includes swimming, paddling and rowing.

The 10-event series begins Saturday morning at Mission Beach in San Diego. There are two other Los Angeles-area competitions in the series during July and August, including the Malibu World Cup on July 26 in which an Australian lifeguard team will compete.

A 1,000-meter ocean race will be open to the public at each of the competitions.

Information: 213-822-5020.

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