Thousands of junior lifeguards partake in competition

As the sun broke through the morning marine layer, feet hit hard-packed sand and youths splashed through the chilly Newport waters.

About 2,200 junior lifeguards from up and down the coast flocked to Newport Beach on Friday to face off against other 9- to 15-year-olds in the California Junior Lifeguard Regional Championship.

Colorful awnings and chairs decorated the beach between lifeguard towers 18 and 20 during the competition, which Newport Beach hosted for the first time.

"This is the California state championship," said Jay Butki, competition chairman for the California Surf Life Saving Assn. "It's bragging rights for these kids."

The all-day event included swimming and running competitions, paddleboard races and other contests that tested the junior lifeguards' endurance and ocean-safety knowledge.

Volunteers from other lifeguard agencies helped run the day's events, said Skeeter Leeper, a lifeguard officer and the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard program supervisor.

"Typically, the regional competition, for us, is more competition than nationals," said lifeguard Sgt. Mason Turvey, coordinator of the Oceanside Junior Lifeguard program, which helped run some of the events.

Newport Beach lifeguard Ross Sinclair said the Newport junior guards chose their top participants to compete in the regional championship.

Every Thursday leading up to the competition, Newport's juniors competed for one of the 80-some spots on the regional team.

Two of the Newport junior lifeguards not only competing, but winning, were 12-year-olds Parker Hoffman and Bayley Weber.

The sun-kissed, dirty blond-haired friends took first place in the rescue relay, where competitors simulate an ocean rescue.

Parker and Bayley's three-year friendship gave them the competitive edge they needed to triumph.

Parker, who acted as the victim in the relay, bobbed between the waves about 200 yards off the shoreline. As Bayley bounded through the whitewash, rescue buoy in tow, Parker made "llama signs" with her fingers — a secret hand signal the two friends came up with to ease communication out in the surf.

"We worked together as a team," Bayley said.

"She's really good at kicking," she added, grinning at her race partner.

Despite their win, Parker and Bayley won't compete in the national competition in New Jersey this year because the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard program is not sending a team, Sinclair said.

If the competition moves back to the West Coast next year, Newport will most likely send a team, he added.

"[Regionals] will be the pinnacle of this summer, competition-wise," he said.

Sinclair will compete in Saturday's California Surf Life Saving Assn. Regional Lifeguard Championships, which is solely for professional lifeguards.

"I'm going to do everything," he said. "The paddles and swims are my specialty. Hopefully, I can do all right and represent Newport Beach."

The professional competition runs from about 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the south side of the Newport Pier.

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