Earn Your Salt.

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The Rookie

Bruce, a 16-year-old and star surfer at his local high school, had his mom on his case, telling him it is time for him to get a job and start contributing to the family ethics. One fall day after surf practice, Bruce noticed a flyer on the lifeguard tower for a summer job as a beach lifeguard. The flyer stated, “Join the Lifeguard Service for an Experience of a Lifetime. Starting Pay: $14.35 per hour”. Bruce decided that if he is going to get a job, it might as well be at the beach where he spends most of his time anyway.

Bruce, a scrawny but toned kid, with ocean knowledge well beyond his years, then decided it is his new life goal to train for the winter lifeguard tryouts – only a few months away. When Bruce told his friends, he was ridiculed for wanting to be one of those “water jock beach cops.” The lifeguards always blackball them from surfing the better break. However, Bruce, a leader not a follower, decided to go for it anyway.

The first few times Bruce jumped in the pool to attempt the 1,000-yard tryout swim, he was humbled and couldn’t even finish. But with much encouragement from his parents and his inner drive, he continued to train.

At 6:30 a.m. on the big day, Bruce’s mom woke her star child with breakfast in bed and his dad was just as pumped. Bruce’s parents drove with him to the beach after breakfast to watch their son put all that training to the test. When they arrived at the beach, Bruce started wondering what exactly he got himself in to. The surf was the biggest it had been in years and the tryouts were still being held.

Even though the water was 55 degrees, wetsuits are not allowed because of longtime tradition and the advantage of floatation. Bruce, shaky and nervous, checked-in among the thousands of other lifeguard hopefuls to get his race number. He walked down to the tide line where the lifeguards drew a starting line in the sand. While on the starting line, Bruce almost could not see the orange buoys that mark the course over the sea of lifeguard wannabes. He looked back at his parents and noticed that half of the varsity swim and water polo team are also chasing this lifeguard dream. This makes Bruce even more scared, and thoughts of throwing in the towel enter his mind, but he is able to compose himself just as the final competitors line up to listen to the experienced, seasoned, veteran guards explain the race course.

The course is a 1,000-yard swim in twenty minutes or less, followed by a sprint run-swim-run race. With only a few minutes to go, Bruce noticed that the large surf formed a longshore current that would make swimming straight out difficult, if not impossible. With this in mind, Bruce moved further down the beach in order to use the current to his advantage. The veteran lifeguards watched Bruce and noticed nobody was following his lead.

With the sound of the gun, the vibrations of thousands of bare feet slapping the hard-packed sand were felt by all those watching. Bruce stormed towards the water, lifting his feet higher with every step to counteract the rapidly increasing water depth. When the water got too deep to high-step, Bruce put his head under the frigid water and began to navigate the massive surf. While taking a breath and looking for waves, he managed to grab a quick glance at his competition – which was swept off course by the ripping longshore current. When Bruce reached the outside, he was dumbfounded to see that he was directly in front of the first buoy, with the rest of the pack off course and a quarter-mile down the beach.

Bruce finished in first place with a time of 14 minutes and 30 seconds.

His peers from the water polo team congratulated him and asked how he did it. Bruce humbly told them about watching the surf before the start of the race and noticing the ferocious longshore current. Bruce’s proud father, also a seasoned, well-versed waterman and surfer, handed Bruce a towel, telling him how he also knew the swimmers and water polo kids would just swim right in to oncoming waves and not even attempt to dive under them.

The lifeguards who saw Bruce compensate for the longshore current took note, and Bruce passed the interview process with flying colors.

Lifeguard Training

The first day of Lifeguard training, Bruce had to complete the same distance swim twice: once in the morning and once after lunch. This time, Bruce was more confident because of his persistent late night and early morning training though the winter and spring.

In the ten days of non-stop lifeguard and basic first responder medical training, Bruce saw more than 60 percent of his peers leave in tears or get sent home for lack of drive. Some were sent home for poor performance, bad test grades in the medical classes, or for some, what seemed to be immaturity.

On the final day, Bruce was called told he would be one of the lucky few sitting in a lifeguard tower that summer, leaving him excited, exhausted, and nervous for the months ahead. On this day, Bruce realized that he was no longer a maturing grom; he was now a rookie lifeguard, well respected by friends and family.

Fourth of July is one of the heaviest days of the summer for lifeguarding if the surf is up. Bruce trained in high density towers for the first few weeks of summer with some of the best lifeguard and watermen on the southern coast to gear himself up for the Fourth of July, when he would be on his own. He even went to bed early the night before to be at work early to surf and feel fresh for the busy day ahead.

While surfing, Bruce noticed a large hole directly in front of his assigned tower. He had been around the ocean long enough to know that when the tide changed he would have his work cut out for him. Sure enough, when the tide changed, that little, innocent hole turned into the worst rip current on the beach.

Standing on the deck of his tower that busy day, Bruce began to grasp the great responsibility he was burdened with. He estimated over 800 people in his water alone. Bruce was nervous to make his first rescues, but he remembered some of the phrases they shoved down his throat during lifeguard training: “Be preventative!”; “When in doubt GO!”; “Spread the Red!”; and “Save the Baby”.

Making over 25 rescues that afternoon and eight medical aids, Bruce showed he had what it took and consistently proved himself. That year, Bruce was awarded the “Rookie of the Year” Award.