Every summer, young people learn about ocean safety and recreation through an intense aquatic program at Dunes State Beach in Half Moon Bay. The Junior Lifeguard program serves boys and girls ages 9 through 15 with two four-week-long sessions each summer. The goal of the program is to educate the community’s youth about ocean recreation and safety.

The program is a combination of learning, exercise, and fun. A typical day starts with stretches and an assessment of the current ocean conditions. The day’s events can include run-swim-runs, buoy swims, boogie boarding, body surfing, lectures on topics such as lifeguard skills (rescues and first aid), and shoreline games and activities. These events are aimed to educate each Junior Guard on how to maneuver the ever changing ocean conditions, the importance of a daily workout, and maximizing the enjoyment of living on the coastside.

The training is centered at Dunes State Beach but contains field trips to other beaches along the coast, such as Montara State Beach and Año Nuevo State Park as well as participating in the Junior Lifeguard competition in Santa Cruz. Field trips and competitions teach participants about other beach environments.

(Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)
(Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)
(Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)

The trainees develop many skills in addition to ocean safety. Working under close supervision in an open-ended lesson plan, they learn teamwork, job and life skills, quality work habits and leadership. The Junior Lifeguards get a well-rounded education on the beach and in the ocean. After four weeks in the program, they have a heightened awareness and knowledge of the coastal shoreline.

Other program enrichments include community service and exposure to other organizations working on the coast. The Junior Guards conduct a beach cleanup, which educates them about the trash brought by beach-goers or washed ashore by the tides. The Marine Mammal Center staff demonstrates the rescue of orphaned and injured harbor seals that will be rehabilitated in their animal hospital. Visits to Pillar Point Harbor teach them about harbor operations.

During the four-week session, the instructors see a huge progression in the youths’ skills, comfort in the water and personal growth. Everyone has a great time learning new skills while understanding the seriousness of their lesson plans. They learn that a lifeguard can prevent tragedy.

Junior Lifeguards may re-apply and return to the program in future summers. Junior Lifeguards with a passion for the out-of-doors can begin considering a career with State Parks by graduating to be Youth Aides. These Youth Aides, ages 15 to 17, assist the Coordinators in running the program but also receive universal and lifeguard specific job skills training. In addition to gaining more skills, they will also secure community service credits for their high school diploma requirements.

As the Junior Lifeguards and Youth Aides progressively gain more skills and experience, Lifeguard Cadet and Seasonal Lifeguard positions become attainable at Half Moon Bay State Beach or other state beaches in California each summer. For State Parks, the Junior Lifeguards program not only educates another generation of beach visitors but also serves as a feeder program into the State Parks Lifeguard career track.

(Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)
(Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)

The program isn’t just a summer program. In the off-season, the Junior Lifeguards make educational presentations at public safety fairs and schools. During Oceans Week, the youth can speak effectively about their increased awareness of aquatics safety that make a beach visit safer for everyone.

Coastside State Parks Association contributes to the Junior Lifeguards Program in several ways. In past years, that support has included the purchase of binoculars, two-way radios, supplies, repairs to the ATV and THINK vehicles.

Coastside State Parks Association is proud to offer a scholarship for children who would like to attend the Junior Lifeguard program but is financially unable to do so.

More information about the Junior Lifeguard Program is available on the State Park website. There is also a section on the website regarding ocean safety.

California State Parks offers Junior Lifeguard Programs in other coastal state park districts, such as Santa Cruz and Monterey. The San Mateo Sector program is the farthest north but differs primarily because of the intense and varied local ocean conditions. San Mateo County coast has very consistent currents and tides, which make its beaches great locations for training but also needs many trained people with life-saving skills.