The following is an excerpt from "Santa Cruz Lifeguards' Long Road to Going Pro" which was published by Goodtimes in their August 6th edition and can be read in its entirety HERE.
"Perched atop baby-blue towers scattered along the coast, the lifeguards who watch the water from behind polarized sunglasses and thick layers of zinc are a staple of the beaches that sustain the Central Coast.
The mix of authority, adrenaline, sun, and sand make for a perfect summer job for many of the roughly 140 seasonal guards who swell the county’s ranks from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year.
“I grew up idolizing the lifeguards,” says Patricia Jake Stark, who joined the local Junior Lifeguards at age 8. “I knew from a very young age that ocean rescue was what I wanted to do.”
In pop culture, movies and on TV, lifeguards are routinely fetishized as abnormally attractive watchdogs of the sun-soaked masses. Every pool, lake or beach has a Billy Hargrove prowling to “Moving in Stereo,” or a Wendy Peppercorn like the Sandlot boys drool over.
Still, lifeguarding is rarely a viable long-term career. Stark, a 21-year-old Santa Cruz High alum, is one of many whose dreams of patrolling the sand eventually morph into the pursuit of better-paid and more plentiful jobs in local fire departments, the military or emergency medicine. In Stark’s case, lifeguarding led to becoming a search and rescue swimmer who jumps out of helicopters for the U.S. Navy.
Part of the challenge is that the pressure of preventing drowning doesn’t necessarily translate to high pay. Most local lifeguards make $15-20 an hour, on par with many local restaurants or service sector jobs.
“You don’t get into lifeguarding to get rich,” says Anaiis Nysether, a 22-year-old seasonal lifeguard who plays water polo at Cabrillo College. “Most of us have either another job, or this is just a summer gig while they are home from school.”