Mary A. Castillo
Every other morning you might see children in white shirts and dark
blue shorts running across the lawn at Main Beach. Backpacks are dumped
near the boardwalk as the junior lifeguards get ready for another day at
“It’s pretty fun,” said Miranda Prado, 10. “My mom got me into it and
this is my second year.”
She and her friend Lauren Hampton, 9, hopped off the boardwalk when
the instructors summoned the guards for stretches. Everyone knows that
late arrivals add more push-ups for everyone.
Miranda and Lauren are only two of an estimated 8,000 children who
have gone through the junior lifeguard program since it was established
in the early 1960s.
“When we first started we had maybe a dozen to 25 kids,” said Mark
Klosterman, chief of Marine Safety. “This summer we have about 450.”
To ensure that everyone can handle the program, all junior guards must
pass a 100-yard swim test to get into the program, said Chad Beeler,
director of the program.
Even still, some of the junior guards are hesitant on the first day.
“One of the biggest problems is getting the kids to dunk their heads
in the water,” said Beeler who has started as an instructor in 1993 and
was promoted to director in 1996. “The second problem is getting them to
trust us to run toward a wave instead of away from it before it forms and
The junior guards are divided into age groups and spend the day
learning how to ride the waves, while exploring the coves and playing
games. The program is structured so that there are 15 students to each
instructor, not counting the youth aides.
Youth aides, who are all former junior lifeguards, are instrumental to
the program, said Beeler.
“The youth aides allow us to keep our eyes on the kids,” he said. “I
tell them that they’re the backbone of the program but they’ll have to do
the grunt work.”
This summer’s first class is set to graduate on July 19 and a few
consider themselves veterans.
Beeler enjoys watching his students make friends and encourage each
other to try things they might be hesitant to do.
Under safe conditions, students go out to the blowhole at Diver’s Cove
or “pirate’s cave” at Rockledge. They also spend time snorkeling and
learning how to paddle board or swim. Beeler stressed that students never
do anything on their own or in yellow flag conditions.
“The greatest strength of the program is safety,” Klosterman added.
Last year, Beeler started the Sea Cubs and Mermaids program for
children ages 6 to 9. The “minor junior lifeguards” learn how to paddle
board and go on tide pool explorations and hikes.
For information about the Junior Lifeguard and Sea Cubs and Mermaids
programs, call Community Services at (949) 497-0716, Ext. 6.
MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot. She
covers education, public safety and City Hall.