Sunglasses perched on my nose, sunscreen (let’s be honest — tanning oil) slathered on my arms and legs. I spent my high school summers soaking up sun, but I wasn’t a pool rat. I was making the big bucks as a lifeguard.
Now that I’m a parent, I’ve been reflecting on my three summers as a lifeguard. I spent two years guarding a large waterpark, and one year at a country club. Jonny spent two years guarding a public pool and one at a private pool. We’ve been swapping stories — and parents, you might want to listen up. Here’s what a couple former lifeguards want you to know about keeping your family safe — whether you’re venturing out to a waterpark or hitting up a local pool.
- Lifeguards aren’t babysitters. I know — that family pass is a steal. And some of you are wondering how you’re going to entertain your school-aged kids all summer without shipping them off to the pool. Because they can just bike there. And you trust your third grader, right? It may be tempting, but dropping off elementary school-aged children isn’t the safest option for your kiddos. Lifeguards are there to scan the water and ensure safety — but they can’t control your child leaving the pool without permission or being around a creeper. (FYI — I saw a lot of sketchy characters as a lifeguard — even at the upscale country club.) If you can’t go along, send them with a trusted teenager to keep an eye on them or set up an adult to check in with, and make sure the kiddos stay in groups of at least 2-3.
- Lightning is a lifeguard’s best friend. When lightning strikes or thunder bellows, pools must close up shop. (Obviously. Thanks B. Frank for teachin’ us that lesson.) This means that over-cooked lifeguards get to sit in the guard shack and get paid to flirt with each other, which is why all lifeguards pray for storms.
- CPR is scary. I was terrified to perform CPR — and through we had practiced on dummies, none of my fellow guards had any real-life experience, either. The thought of CPR is scary. When I worked for the waterpark, we had quite a few required in-services to practice rescue techniques (they required it for insurance purposes, but we didn’t have to do those at the country club).
- Drowning doesn’t look like drowning. There’s a difference between being in distress (arms flapping, splashing water, crying for help) and drowning (quiet, body vertical in water, glazed eyes, mouth open). Pools get crowded and drowning can happen quickly — make sure you know the signs. While we’re on this note, please don’t distract lifeguards with your weird stories. For some reason, people (Adults you guys! ADULTS!) always felt the urge to confide in me with their summer tales of woe. Let the lifeguards do their thang and if you must, go annoy the concession workers.
- Kids need help even when a parent is close. Just being near your kids doesn’t mean that you’re watching them. The only time I had to rescue a child was when he was scared and in deep water, violently floating on the choppy waves, past the safety rope in the waterpark’s wave pool. His mom was close, eyes closed, tanning on a raft, and the dad was distracted, chatting with a friend. They were shocked when I had to hit the emergency stop button and jump in to get him. If the little guy would have fallen off his tube(and he was close to doing just that) it would have been really bad news. Make sure to keep an eye (both eyes!) on your little ones.
- Floaties are great, until they aren’t. When used as a help when you’re in the pool with your little one, arm floaties or inflatable rings can be great. But they’re not life-saving devices, and can offer a false sense of safety and security. They pop easily, and slide off little arms easily. Some pools (and all waterparks I know of) don’t allow them for this reason.
- Wear flip flops. Please hear this from someone who used to have to “rinse” pool bathrooms. They are disgusting and you should never, ever, ever, go barefoot in them (or let your kids go barefoot) unless you want to get warts. I just laughed when writing that, because it sounds so melodramatic, but it’s true, you guys. HIDE YOUR KIDS, HIDE YOUR WIVES. (And while we’re on the issue of hygiene, can we just do a PSA about shaving? Please, there are things lifeguards have to see that NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO SEE.)
- Lifeguards are kids, too. There’s a spectrum of lifeguard committed-ness. Some take the job very seriously (go ahead with that fannypack and whistle) and others clock in completely hungover (here’s to you, college kids home for summer!). Most lifeguards are so awesome, but some are just there to get a tan. Every pool or waterpark has a different tone and vibe, but if you see a guard nodding off, not turning his or her head to scan the pool, something might be up. At the waterpark I worked at, we were barely allowed to sit and had to hold our lifesaving tube. It was more chill at the country club, where I got to sit down and use the tube as a squishy footstool.
- You can swim after you eat. That whole you-have-to-wait-an-hour-before-you-eat thing is a myth. Lifeguards have a certain window of time to chow pizza (oh, to be a teenager and rock a lifeguard bikini while gorging on greasy ‘za!) and then get back to business.
- Rules are rules, yo. I’m sure your three-year-old would love to go on the 100-feet drop slide, but he’s not tall enough and even your most persuasive of arguments won’t help. Yeah, I know it’s fun, but running on slippery pavement will lead to falling, so a guard is going to blow a whistle at you.Rules are there to keep you and your family safe, and lifeguards are, too. So follow the dang rules. (Unless you’re a lifeguard and it’s after-hours. Then all h-e-double-hockey-sticks breaks loose and you end up going down a crazy slide head first on a double tube.)