Lifeguarding Expectations VS Reality

If you grew up on the West Coast, you've most likely spent your summers in or around a pool. Time is spent here relaxing and hanging out  friends and family. The clear, refreshing water is a perfect place for kids to play games with friends, or for adults to tan under the summer sun. At most public facilities you're more than likely to see lifeguards watching the pool looking buff and tan, wearing cool sunglasses and a high cut red swimsuit. Unfortunately, this is not the reality of being a lifeguard.

Yes, there are lifeguards out there who resemble the TV show, Baywatch. They save people from massive currents, look out for sharks on the daily, and still manage to look attractive while doing all of that. In most cases many lifeguards find themselves working at an indoor lap pool cleaning hairballs out of the shower drains after a swim meet. But don't worry, you'll get a nice, frumpy grey t-shirt and long red shorts to wear as your sexy lifeguard uniform. 

The expectation of getting that perfect summer tan and working out while on the job may seem like an achievable idea, but the reality is you're going to be getting all sorts of awful tan lines. I'm talking about flip flop or sneaker tan lines, a farmer's tan, a one piece swimsuit tan, or worst of all a tan from your sunglasses. Be aware -- these will not go away until the start of next summer. 

Another assumption that people often have is that lifeguards must get paid a lot for being the ones to rescue people in an emergency. Unless you work at a really fancy hotel, you will most likely make minimum wage. You'll definitely feel like you're earning it when you've been watching the same pool for over eight hours -- outside, dripping in sweat.

The fun of being a lifeguard also comes with the challenges of dealing with an AFR. What does this mean? Accidental fecal release. Most commonly occurs in the baby pool during a busy summer day. This is usually the most riveting part of the job. The lifeguard gets to blow his or her whistle and yells at everyone to get out of the pool for an hour. You have been mistaken if you thought lifeguarding was a glamorous summer job because now it's your job to put on a pair of gloves and fish that thing out of the pool. That's right, you get paid the lowest possible wage on the hour to scoop human feces out of a pool that you know kids already pee in. 

Interestingly enough, parents also commonly mistake lifeguards for being personal babysitters. There have been times where I am already watching over 50 people by myself, and some crazy parents even think it'd be a good idea to get wasted, not even watching their children. The reality is that accidents are rare, but they can still happen to anyone. 

Many swimmers and patrons think lifeguards actually hold a lot more power than they do. Many people have asked me to change things at the pool when common sense would tell them no; like changing the amount of shade available. For the most part lifeguarding consists of watching swimmers, saving people if something happens, taking out the trash, and cleaning the bathrooms. 

People have had outrageous requests in the past. One of my favorites being, "There are a lot of bats in the sky by the parking lot, can you make them go away?" or, "Can you change the pool from chlorine to saltwater?"

Although lifeguarding isn't as glamorous, or at times not as fun as it may seem on TV, it can be very rewarding. Waking up at five in the morning to watch people swim when it's 45 degrees out has taught me to work hard. The most valuable thing you may learn could be how to kill time doing nothing. It's a great first job, just not fabulous. 

© 2016 Insight Magazine