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By Breeana Greenberg

With summer just around the corner, the California State Parks Junior Lifeguard Program looks to give kids the skills they need to be ocean-safe.

However, the upcoming summer program, which serves as the State Parks’ primary in-house recruitment tool, comes at a time when the agency faces a shortage of seasonal lifeguards.

“Our goal is to make lifeguards,” Junior Lifeguard Program Coordinator Chris Egan said during the Dana Point Civic Association’s weekly Coffee Chat on March 18.

“Certainly, the Junior Lifeguard Program should be our primary recruitment tool to staff … unfortunately, it’s very hard to fill lifeguard positions these days, and this program is a key recruitment tool for us to try to make lifeguards,” Egan continued.

Egan explained that kids face so many academic and athletic pressures these days, such as pursuing internships and sports, which require an intensive commitment to compete.

“Naturally, in the lifeguarding field or the aquatic field, the majority of the kids we’re looking to get are water polo players or swimmers with that kind of experience, and they’re committing a lot or have to commit a lot to those endeavors,” Egan said.

Egan added during the Coffee Chat that the pay rate for State Parks hasn’t remained competitive with the workforce in general.

“I’ve been with the State Parks for 32 years, and when I started, there were 10-, 12-, 13-, 15-year veterans that came back summer after summer,” Egan recalled. “Right now, our average retention rate is 2.2 years.”

Egan added that over the past two years, the lifeguard training academy has been affected by COVID-19 and training capacity was limited. This year will see a “return to normal” in terms of the California State Parks reaching its capacity of potential applicants, Egan said.

The Junior Lifeguard Program serves as an effective recruitment tool for the kids who stick through the entirety of the program to later apply to become lifeguards, Egan said.

“The Junior Lifeguard Program is one of the core programs for State Parks in their fulfillment of their mission statement, which focuses on health, inspiration and education, and providing high quality outdoor recreation,” Egan said.

The Junior Lifeguard Program is run by ocean-trained, State Park-system lifeguards. In addition to ocean and aquatic safety, the program offers an environmental and recreational component in which participants learn about the marine environment specific to Doheny State Beach.

Since the ocean environment can be dangerous, there is a qualification process in which participants will be asked to swim 100 yards freestyle, tread water for five minutes and swim underwater for 10 yards.

The Doheny State Beach Junior Lifeguard Program will hold tryouts on April 16 and April 30 at San Clemente High School, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those who have already passed the swim test do not need to try out again.

The program is split into four two-week sessions that run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The sessions also group participants by age: 8 to 10, 11 to 12, and 13 to 15. There is a ratio of 20 students to one staff member; however, youth aides serve as instructor assistants to offer extra hands.

Kids will learn age-appropriate emergency response skills such as basic first aid, CPR and lifesaving measures, which vary from age group to age group. By the end of the day, Egan explained, participants will know what a rescue tube is, as well as how to pull a victim in from the water and notify a lifeguard.

Enrollment for returning participants will open on March 29. New participants may register for the Junior Lifeguard Program after completing the tryout process.

For more information on the Doheny State Beach Junior Lifeguard Program, check out the California State Parks website or the Doheny State Beach Junior Lifeguards website.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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