Junior Lifeguards Think and Swim


Some come because they want to get in shape, some to learn about water safety. Still others just want to spend a summer at the beach.

Whatever the reason, 80 kids ages 8 to 15 will spend the next few weeks in Ventura County's Junior Lifeguards program learning about everything from skin cancer and rip currents to water rescues and nutrition.

"It's a day camp where you can learn stuff," said Johnny Castellano, the program's director. "It's important for them to know and learn about the water."

Castellano, 30, has been a county lifeguard for 13 years. He has been with the Junior Lifeguards program for each of its five summers, and has watched it grow from one six-week session with 20 kids to two four-week sessions with 80 kids each.

"Each year, it's gotten a little bit bigger and bigger," Castellano said.

Participants, who have paid $225 apiece, arrive at 9 a.m. and start each day with stretches and exercises such as running, push-ups and sit-ups.

Next, they separate into groups to work on skills training, such as paddling on a surfboard or learning first aid.

In one simulated rescue, kids were taught how to high-step into waves and dive like dolphins.

Although many lifeguard agencies offer similar summer programs, they tend to be more regionally focused than the county program, which draws kids from all over Ventura County, Castellano said. While the program does not funnel kids into additional lifeguard training for adults, they learn many of the same skills and know what to expect should they ever decide to become lifeguards, he said.

Zach Grigg, 10, of Oxnard, said he joined this summer to learn to swim better. This is his first year in the program, which has some kids who return year after year. Since Nick Schaal, 10, of Silver Strand, enrolled three years ago, he has learned how to spot a rip current, and how to administer CPR. "We didn't know any of it" beforehand, Nick said.

Daniel Walker, 15, and Jenifer Hewitt, 16, both of Oxnard, have been involved with Junior Lifeguards for all of the group's five years. This year, they are serving as aides to the younger swimmers.

"I help them push a little harder so they can keep going," Daniel said. Daniel and Jenifer said they like the physical aspects of the program.

"I'm doing something healthy instead of just sitting on the couch," Jenifer said.

"I lose a little weight and I feel a little stronger," Daniel said. "I like the swimming because it's a total body workout." The teens say they enjoy assisting with beach games, such as "Capture the Flag." "I get to be a big kid," Jenifer said.

Later in the program, which ends Aug. 17, the kids will travel to Anacapa Island for a day to hike and snorkel, and to learn about vegetation on and around the island.

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