For the past 35 years, the unofficial start of summer in Newport Beach is the kickoff of the Junior Lifeguard program. More than 1,300 kids ages 9 to 15 participate in this summer camp, which provides kids with a chance to learn from some of the most trusted and capable people on the beach: actual lifeguards.
The program is designed to teach children ocean safety through physical development, ocean proofing, marine safety, and first aid.
This year’s Junior Lifeguard program starts June 23 and runs through August 6, but instead of 1,300 kids in red swimsuits, the program is being modified this year due to coronavirus concerns and safety precautions.
Only 150 teens ages 14 and 15 will participate this year. All other age groups are postponed until the summer of 2021.
“It was a difficult decision,” said Chief Lifeguard Mike Halphide. “We have 750 kids in morning and 600 in the afternoon, and we operate out of a mobile trailer. There are social distancing concerns and sanitation concerns. By reducing our numbers to 80 and 70, we can spread out more.”
According to Halphide, with fewer participants they can regulate the equipment and disinfect it between use. They are also bringing in extra sanitation stations.
Another concern was having 1,350 kids on bikes riding down Balboa peninsula or on Balboa Island to the car ferry and have them pass through residential areas.
Fire Chief Jeff Boyles noted that by having just the older group of Junior Lifeguards participate, it reduces social distancing concerns and allows that age group – many of whom have participated since they were nine years old – to complete the program and hopefully become full lifeguards one day.
“The oldest kids are the most skilled, the most tenured, and they can maintain the proper social standards” said Boyles, who added that his department “had contemplated dozens of scenarios with staffing and equipment, and it just wasn’t feasible, and not responsible” to have the full program this year.
“Junior Lifeguards are part of the fabric of the community,” said Halphide. “Some of the kids are second generation—their parents were junior guards. It’s extremely disappointing, but there was no other feasible option.”
On May 21, a letter was sent to all Junior Lifeguard families with children anticipating the start of the program to let them know of the modification and postponement.
Part of the letter reads, “We delayed the decision as long as possible with the hope that new State and County guidelines and reopening stages would allow for the full program to move forward. Because of the timeline needed for staffing, logistics, equipment procurement and planning within the entire department, we needed to move forward with a decision at this point.”
“The existing constraints and current uncertain guidelines as set forth by the State and County have restricted the ability to move forward with a full NBJG Program.”
For more information on Junior Lifeguards, visit http://www.nbjg.net.