Celebrating Hawaii's Lifeguards

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Celebrating Hawaii's Lifeguards

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Oahu
Aug 23, 2013

A dozen or more lifeguards raced up and down the beach amidst sunbathers situated under red and yellow umbrellas and children bobbing on pink and green inflatables in the turquoise blue waters of Waikiki. But there was no rescuing going on. Not now.

Over the loudspeaker, a voice called, "Everybody go surfing in honor of Duke Kahanamoku." And people did.

Pairs of men and women warmed up for an upcoming tandem surfing heat. Beginning surfers paddled out on giant long boards. Others wobbled on stand up boards, their knees shaking, their legs stiff. A man reached a hand for his young son, and the two headed into the water, trailing a boogie board. There were all kinds of people with all kinds of water skills in the water. It would have been impossible to keep track of them all. But, somehow, our lifeguards do a pretty darn good job of it, day in and day out.

On this day, as part of Duke's Oceanfest, lifeguards from Hawaii, California, New Zealand and Japan competed in the lifeguard competition, sponsored by my employer, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts.

The event was just one of many taking place all week long behind the statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Duke's Oceanfest is a water sports extravaganza, just as much fun to watch as it is to participate. There were big muscles, big sunglasses and big, bright smiles everywhere. What would Duke have made of all this? In his name?

There were also big bodies wearing swimsuits much too small. After my conversation yesterday, I know what Doc would have made of this. 

Doc was out again today, enjoying his daily swim, and I was touched to see a young Waikiki beach boy hurry to Doc's aid when the push-pull of the water's surge threw the 92-year-old off balance at the water's edge.

After Team California edged out Team Hawaii for the win in the competition by a mere couple of points, the life guards, apparently not able to simply sit on a beach and do nothing, created the "first, annual, unofficial" competition of their own.

It was a medley relay that required each of the four team members to swim, stand up paddle and paddleboard. Twice. It was a long race, and I lost track of the contestants and who was in what place--possibly because not all these lifeguards fit the part. They didn't match the stereotypical look of a lifeguard--all braun and no brains. In fact, a couple of these guys looked more like lumberjacks than lifeguards.

When it was over, there were lots of hand shakes--more slaps than shakes--and I asked, "So who won?"

A Hawaii lifeguard, sporting a beard and still wearing his official green competition jersey shrugged his slight shoulders. "It doesn't matter," he said.

Now, that wasn't something I expected, either. Maybe what I'd witnessed wasn't so much a competition as a good-hearted, afternoon workout. Perhaps saving lives is more important to these guys than winning some race, official or otherwise.

In honor of the heroic work lifeguards do, here are some tips from the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division of Honolulu: 

-Slip, slap, Slop! slip into a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the sun screen! Always protect your body from the sun's harmful rays.

-Always swim at a guarded beach.

-Consult lifeguards about ocean conditions before you go into the water.

-Heed all warning signs. They are there for a reason.

-Never swim alone.

-Never go out farther than you can swim.

-If you see someone in distress call for a lifeguard or dial 911.

-Know your limits. If in doubt, don't go out!

-Never take what you can't carry. Leave your valuables at home and never leave valuables in your vehicle.


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