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Need a job? Lifeguard tryout season is kicking off in Orange County

The office is the sand and surf.

The job? To keep beachgoers safe, in and out of the water.

Lifeguard agencies along Orange County’s coastline are gearing up for tryout season, a unique job application process that requires lifeguard hopefuls to beat out the competition during rigorous swim and run races. It also requires applicants to be able to withstand frigid water in the 50s that can send a chilling shock through the body.

With the ongoing coronavirus concern, tryouts will be a bit different this year for those who show up hoping to score a seasonal job at the beach.

At Newport Beach’s tryouts this Saturday, Feb. 6, and Huntington Beach City tryouts the following Saturday, Feb. 13, instead of a mad-dash start like previous years, there will be a staggered start to the trials and a timed finish much like a triathlon race.

Lifeguards are hiring for the upcoming summer, but tryouts this year will be different due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (File photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“Instead of swimming in mass, we’re keeping everything spread out and physically distanced,” said Newport Beach Marine Safety Chief Mike Halphide.

It may be more of a mental challenge for competitive people who thrive on beating the person in front of them, who this year won’t know where they stand against other applicants until they hit the finish line.

“The competition is what gets people through those physical hardships and through the fatigue,” Halphide said.

The city received about 120 applications before the deadline earlier this week, a bit higher than usual, likely due to the downturn of the economy, he said.

“There’s not as many jobs available, especially at entry level,” he said.

The pay isn’t too shabby, either. Each department has a different pay scale, but Newport Beach, for example, pays $14 and hour during training and $18.50 an hour when the summer job starts.

For Huntington City Beach’s tryouts, each person will be spaced out with 10 seconds between their starts, said Marine Safety Capt. Tony Villalobos.

All applicants will hop on a Zoom meeting the night before for a run down on coronavirus safety protocols, he said.

Typically, friends and family and other spectators watch the competitions from piers. This year, they may get reminders from lifeguards to keep physical distance, Villalobos said.

“We’ll be making plenty of announcements,” he said.

State Parks spokesperson Kevin Pearsall expects a big turn out this year, with the desire for people to work in an outdoor setting.

“We’re already getting a lot of inquiries, more so than normal,” he said. “We think that on top of what the job already is, the fact that it’s an outdoor job is very attractive to people … it’s not sitting in front of a computer all day, it’s not at home all day.”

One challenge for aspiring new lifeguards this year is turnover for returning lifeguards has been especially low.

Typically, about 15% to 20% of seasonal guards don’t return, but this year there’s only about 3% not coming back for the summer, putting the need at about 20 spots for Bosla Chica and Huntington State Beach, Pearsall said. There are about 100 previous guards wanting to return.

Huntington State Beach’s tryouts will be held on Feb. 20, San Clemente State Beach on Feb. 27, Crystal Cove and Leo Carrillo on Feb. 28.  In addition, San Clemente City Beach tryouts will be Feb. 21, Laguna City Beach will be March 20, while OC Parks will hold tryouts at Aliso Beach on March 27 and April 3. Seal Beach’s tryouts will be April 11.

This year has had some wrinkles for recruitment, Laguna Beach Marine Safety Officer Nick Giugni said. Typically, lifeguards are able to go to local schools to talk to water polo players or competitive swimmers who might fit the physical needs of the job. With the pandemic, that hasn’t been able to happen.

“We’re using the platforms we have,” he said, “social media, word of mouth for people who have friends who think they’d be a good fit, who they would trust would back them up on rescues. Every platform we can use, we’re trying to get the word out.”

They’re also trying to recruit local surfers who might want to have a job at the beach.

“They are in the ocean every day, they understand currents and swell,” Giugni said. “From our experience, they do really well with training, that’s something they’ve already adapted to and they end up being really good lifeguards.”

Lifeguarding doesn’t just need physical speed and strength, it is also a customer service job that requires good communication skills, Halphide said.

That was especially evident this past summer, when lifeguards had to deliver news of beach closures and social distancing guidelines.

“We had to deliver information even if they didn’t want to hear it – and they can deliver it under pressure,” he said.

Lifeguards had an especially challenging year with more people flocking to the beach as other entertainment and sporting options remained closed, drawing people to the outdoors for exercise space and fresh air.

Even with beaches being closed for parts of May and during Fourth of July, Newport Beach saw an increase of 12.5% from its five-year average in visitations.

It wasn’t just more people who showed up, the busy season also lasted longer than usual.

“We had people staffed in trucks and towers through Halloween. Usually, after Labor Day it’s quiet,” Halphide said. “But every day, even through the winter, if it’s not raining there’s people out here. It’s really changed the complexion of the beach season.  Instead of a three-month period, it’s really a six- to eight-month season now.”

There’s one other perk of the job. Seasonal lifeguards, at least in Newport, will be able to get a coronavirus vaccine before their summer job starts because they are first responders.

Ultimately, being good at the job comes down to having a passion for the beach and saving lives, Halphide said.

“The greatest thing about being a lifeguard is being able to work in a beautiful and challenging environment, you get to work with a high-performing team, you get to serve the public,” he said. “Most of us have a background of aquatics and love the ocean. Here, you can translate that love into something bigger than yourself and serve people.”


Source: Orange County Register

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