Hundreds of junior lifeguards from throughout Los Angeles County descended on Castaic Lake’s South Beach Wednesday to compete in the summer’s first Junior Lifeguard Lake Competition.
The competition marked the culmination of nearly three weeks of hard work, training and lifesaving skills the junior lifeguards, ages 9 to 17, learned over the summer thus far.
“The idea of the competition is incorporating what we do as lifeguards,” Castaic Junior Lifeguard Program Director Steve “Scuba” Himes said. “As lifeguards we are quickly responding to victims so we’re running, we’re swimming, we’re paddling so we have adapted that idea and turned it into a competition.”
The competition occurs twice each summer at one of three locations throughout Los Angeles County.
“Typically what happens is there’s three lakes but there’s four lakes competing. Lakes that host are us, Santa Fe and Bonelli… and then Hansen Dam is from LA City and they join us,” Himes said. “We rotate through the three for hosting. When it’s here it’s a big deal so there’s a lot of effort from the staff.”
About 150 junior lifeguards from Castaic Lake went up against the three other junior lifeguard programs in nine different events: competitions: distance run, beach flags, distance swim, rescue race, swim relay, distance paddle, run relay, run-swim-run and paddle relay.
The young adults had the opportunity to compete in a total of four events each, based on personal preference and skill, after being separated into four different age groups during the all-day competition.
“Different divisions have different flags and those all go around based off where their event is,” Himes said. “They all use the same areas but there’s different increments based on ages.”
After each event, induvial winners earn medals or ribbons based that display the LA Junior Guards logo.
“To get one of those medals and one of those ribbons is a big deal,” Himes said. “They’re very proud when they get them.”
A popular event is the “beach flags” where junior lifeguards start facing backward on the ground and jump up when they hear a whistle to run toward flags placed in the ground on the other end of the sand.
“It’s all about speed and agility. When you have to pop up, recognize and get, which is kind of like what we do as lifeguards where we have to recognize quickly and respond quickly,” Himes said.
Eleven-year-old Rebecca Green decided to join the junior lifeguards this year after watching her siblings go through the program and wanting to participate in competitions like the one on Wednesday.
“I really like the activities that we do and it’s really competitive and I like being competitive,” said Green, who competed in the beach flags, run relay, swim relay and long paddle events.
All of the events and activities in the competition, and during normal camp hours, reflect what lifeguards do on a day-to-day basis on the lake.
“Everything we’re doing is part of the United States Lifeguarding Association who establishes all of those parameters and we adapt those into our lake environment,” Himes said.
Every Monday to Thursday the junior lifeguards swim, run and paddle, in addition to kayaking, learning first aid and CPR and practicing search and rescue in programs completely run by the Castaic Lake’s Lifeguards.
The junior lifeguards also compete in personal contests each week like the “Macho Man Challenge.”
“We start at Paradise Cove and we run around to Station 44 and swim to the point and run around back to where we started,” said 11-year-old Brett Liljedahl who joined the program after his brother participated in it last year. “I beat my time every time.”
Fellow junior lifeguard Nicholas Sciole, 15, said the Macho Man Challenge is more about beating personal goals rather than other lifeguards.
“It’s not about how fast you go, it’s about beating your time and improving,” he said.
The junior lifeguard program also works to develop self-confidence in the young adults through knowledge, discipline and competitive atmosphere and increase physical fitness.
“It becomes a ritual for a lot of these kids, especially with families. I’ve seen a lot of brothers and sisters,” Himes said. “Kids love being here for the four weeks. We have a lot of kids come out and do eight weeks so they sign up for both sessions and their parents love being part of the program.”
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