By Elizabeth Greenberg | NB Indy
Signifying the unofficial start of summer, the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguards kicked off their 2014 season last week.
This year, the program is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
“Being the 30th year, for me personally and the program, it lets you know that (NB Junior Lifeguards) has become a tradition,” in the community, said longtime NB lifeguard and Junior Guard instructor, Jeff Pratt. “We’re creating a family down here.”
It’s wonderful to see adults who went through the program get excited seeing their kids have the same experiences, Pratt noted.
“It’s almost like a rite of passage,” he said. “We really get to see these kids grow.”
Founded in 1963 in Huntington Beach by lifeguard Reenie Boyer, the Junior Lifeguard program didn’t reach Newport until 1984, when the city recruited Boyer to start their own program.
The program started with less than 100 kids, Pratt said.
Ever since, the Newport Beach program has evolved into one of the most popular summer activities for the city’s youth. Kids also come from other Southern California towns and even out of state, Pratt added.
Three decades later, Junior Lifeguards remain a prominent summer activity in Newport Beach for teens and tweens. About 1350 kids, ages 9 to 16, flocked to the beach June 23 for the first day of the lifeguard program.
The camp provides kids with a chance to learn from some of the most trusted and capable people on the beach: Actual lifeguards. All the instructors in the program are ocean certified lifeguards and supervise the children at all times. These strong swimmers allow the junior guards to venture into the ocean and some unexplored territory, all in a fun and safe atmosphere.
Their motto is “Safety first, safety last,” and is the foundation for everything they do, Pratt said.
The program is designed to teach children ocean safety through physical development, ocean proofing, marine safety, and first aid.
This year, junior guards are also being taught about environmental awareness. The instructors educate the participants on how to prevent beach litter and ocean pollution through simple individual responsibilities and actions. By drinking from reusable water bottles, junior guards can learn how they can help the cause.
The kids also learn life skills and grow as individuals, Pratt said. They learn leadership skills, community involvement and teamwork.
“It gives them a bigger sense of self-responsibility, awareness and accomplishment,” Pratt said.
Along with the regular daily sessions, there are also several special events for the kids. From a simple hot dog dinner to the Monster Mile run and pier jump, the kids are entertained and occupied all summer long.
One of the more memorable highlights is the Monster Mile, where participants dress up and run one mile on the beach and swim one mile in the ocean.
The 25-foot Balboa pier jump, an annual tradition, is an excellent photo opportunity for parents and a daring optional event for the children.
An even more intense event is the Gray Lunde Iron Man event: A five-mile run and a mile swim in the ocean. Kids need permission from an instructor before they can participate. They need to be ready for the challenging event, Pratt said.
“It doesn’t matter what place you finish,” Pratt said. “We recognize all of them as they cross the finish line… It’s a great feat.”
To commemorate the 30 summers of Junior Guards, officials are trying to get alumni to return during daily sessions or special events to share stories and celebrate, Pratt said.
Though it is too late to sign up, Junior Lifeguards is a Newport Beach tradition worthy of checking out next summer.
“It’s one of the best programs I personally have ever been involved in,” Pratt said. “Each and every one of us look forward to coming back (each summer).”
The program costs $700 for Newport Beach residents and $853 for non-residents, not including the cost of the required swimsuits.
For more information, visit the Junior Lifeguards website listed under the Fire Department’s Marine Operations Division at newportbeachca.gov.