Of Lifeguards and Life

I had to put my camera down.

I sat in my sand chair watching the young family in the surf, a vignette of laughter in white spray.

I want to capture such candid action and send the photos to the family at such times. But I dared not take a photo without permission. And to ask permission would interfere with the spontaneity. And so, the moment is lost forever.

That’s the way it is these days. So, I just watched from my chair, allowing my eye to be the camera lens, my mind, the sensor on which the images unfold. I composed a mind photo: the dancing surf around two tykes and a mom—life on a summer morning, a “capture” never to be glimpsed by the family.

I was happy to enjoy the surf mural, yet—a bit sad. Sad that we live in such suspicious circumstances, even if I understand the apprehension.

Some of you may have noticed my lack of blog posts these days. I’ve been a little off, feeling a bit meh; this thought only added to it. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling sad in these troubled days for America and the world.

Suddenly, from behind, a young voice called to me, “Hi, Lee!”

It was Liv, the lifeguard I mentioned when I waxed poetic some posts ago. Liv was coming on duty at her pine perch atop the lifeguard mound. Down she came for a chat.

Liv lifeguard DSC_9207
Lifeguard, Liv

Liv said she thought about me when she wanted to write a college entry essay, but couldn’t decide on a start. Then she thought of what I said in my post, “Keeping a Sunny Day Sunny.” I wrote: “They call her—Liv. Great name for a lifeguard.” And with those words, she began her essay. I was happy to hear my humble typing worked for her. Sometimes it’s the little things you do or say that work for others, as my tiny words worked for Liv. Her telling me made my day sunnier, for sure.

These lifeguards are so young, so full of life. Whatever career choices they make, they will always have these precious days to look back on, days to savor—literally—guarding life—fantastic.

Young Liv has so much life in front of her. She is eighteen and undecided about her career path; who isn’t at her age? But she intends to keep the fun of swimming in her life; she said she’ll even teach it. Liv’s an old-salt lifeguard compared to the rookies my camera caught recently:

New lifeguards ride to their morning turnout, yellow torpedoes holstered aboard their bikes.

I caught these rookies finishing their run in training. I think every one of them could graduate at my teen training: U.S.M.C boot camp, Parris Island SC. Could one or two consider becoming one of the few, the proud—the Marines?
The rookies began their mile swim—just to start their day.

I spoke with Steve Lieberman, Long Beach Lifeguard Headquarters Captain: To be a lifeguard, one must initially be 15 to take the City of Long Beach test: Be able to run two miles, swim 200 yards in a specific time. That’s the requirement for grade one certification, which allows lifeguards to work poolside.

But there is additional testing for grade three, which allows them to become a Long Beach ocean lifeguard. That requires a 400 yd swim and a paddle rescue (paddling out for a save on a surfboard to access the victim for the save), then a (flat tow) swim-out and return using an ocean float (called a torpedo) to make the save. These tests are monitored and evaluated for passing. Steve Lieberman said this year they took on 22 first-year lifeguards.

These young recruits join a proud corps of sea rescuers, a corps that has not lost a soul to drowning while lifeguards were on duty—in sixteen years. That’s as long as some of these teens have been alive. Kudos Corps! Lifeguard Lt. Ed Segurej and Headquarters Captain Lieberman had a note of pride in their voices when they reported that to me. 

Lifeguard Lt. Ed Segurej driving lifeguard, Jenna, to her destination.

One can’t but feel secure knowing that our families, young and old, are safe at our Long Beach shore. For sixteen years, hundreds of thousands have visited our beach for ocean fun and returned home safely. Families need to appreciate that fact.

But, temptations can bring life to a dark end on a bright summer day. The temptation to swim when lifeguards are not on duty causes tears in families, and that sadly happens too many times. A Newsday story relating such losses:

After my chat with Liv, the lady with the surf tykes above approached me. Incredibly, she asked, “Could you take some photos of my children?” Delighted, I said, “Sure.”

She told me I had taken photos of her son five years ago when he was three. He’s now eight. I did not remember that. Her daughter, the second surf sprout, had not yet been born. So, I happily clicked away. Here are some of the shots. You might note I tend toward slow shutter speeds to capture the water flow, or burst, at the expense of sharp facial focus. I think it brings more fun to the shot:

Two days later, I saw a man with his tiny daughter having a whale of a time—in the same spot. First, he held her hand as she gingerly placed her foot into the surf. Then he jogged across the sand, she, at first on his shoulders, later, on his back.

The gallop came close to my chair, so I asked the man if he’d like me to take some photos. He said, “Sure.” He, too, told me that I took pictures of his son, Jack, a few years ago. (How many kid photos have I taken over my many years?) So, I fired away, eventually taking shots of Mike, his daughter, Rose, his wife, Christine, and Jack.

Long Beach lifeguards are on the lookout every day to keep families like the above safe:

Lifeguards keeping an eye out for sharks. A swimmer thought he saw one, but these lifeguards determined it was just a dolphin.

Joe, left has been a lifeguard for two years, Jacob is a rookie

I spoke with Jacob, 16, the rookie, who said he loves being a lifeguard. He admired lifeguards when he was younger, and he’s glad to be one finally. Jacob said a big part of swimmer safety is prevention. He keeps swimmers between the flags and makes sure they keep off the jetties. Joe said, in two years, he’s saved a man, a lady, and some children. Way to go, Joe! Jacob, you have a great partner from whom to learn.

Young surfer dude, Jack, with his mom and dad seen in earlier sequences, ran into a bit of trouble. He was on his board with his mom alongside…

…when he tumbled under the water…

…then emerged in apparent distress.

Mom and lifeguard, Joe checked Jack out…

…and determined that Jack had been struck by his board in the chest—but he was AOK.

Super surfer that he is—Jack just shrugged it off.

It’s been said so many times, the years; they go so fast. My teen work years were not of sun and sand, but stacking cans on the shelves of the A & P. My friend and I did go to Rockaway Beach often, hitchhiking—white towel rolled up under our arms, offering to pay the dime toll at the Cross Bay Bridge—or taking the bus that ran down Cross Bay Blvd.

But my teen years were just as precious, as these teen’s years. They were golden years, but we often don’t recognize gold when it’s close up.

Now I’m in different golden years. Dwindling years, sure, but that only makes them more precious. It’s important to see moments as precious when the sea of life is still spread before us. The appreciation of a moment, being in a moment of life, allows you to carry it, all the way, to these golden years I now walk in.

I’ve shown you many photos of splashing fun under the eyes of our lifeguards.

Lifeguard Captain, Mike Lundwall, with lifeguard, Samantha

With camera and words, I tried to let you feel what I feel.

But, sometimes I just need to put my camera down.

Trying to capture these summer days of moms and dads, of tots and lifeguards, is trying to capture life in an image.

But we can’t catch life in an image; we must experience it. When I spotted that family in the surf and put my camera down, I participated in their fun. I know their joy because I lived that joy of playing with tots in my daddy days.

And that joy is not in an image—it is in my heart.

Be well,


11 replies »

  1. Janice, those cylindrical tubes you describe are called torpedoes. They are pointed now instead of blunt as they were in your teen years. The newer design makes them easier on the swimming lifeguard. Very essential gear for lifeguards. You must have fantastic memories of Long Beach as a teen. Savor them but savor each day before you as well. Thank you for your kind response.
    Be well,


  2. My parents had a house in Long Beach and I spent many summers there during my teens. It was easy, and fun. I remember seeing the lifeguards running into the water and I felt so proud of them for their courage. They used to run with a cylindrical yellow tube on a cord. They still amaze me. Thank you for your words.😎


  3. Very interesting essay on the lifeguards and I must say the photos of the ladys children were great. I bet she was happy with them. Thanks for posting such pleasant observations.


  4. Lee this is possibly the best story you have ever written!! Thank you so much Lee! I have no more words …..


  5. Joan,
    Thank you. I’m glad it resonated with you. I enjoyed taking the photos and speaking to the lifeguards to learn their thoughts. Re: Rockaway, back in the day, in my later years, we went to Irish town Rockaway’s mile of bars at night.

    But it was Rockaway and “Far Rock” as we called it in the sun that hold most memories for me. Yes, put the troubles of the world away once in a while.
    Thanks again, Joan, for your fine words.
    Be well,


  6. Thank you Lee. This is probably one of the best essays you’ve ever done. Every word a treasure. I’m not so far off from your age and what memories it brings back. We also went to Rockaway and Far Rockway in our teen years. Carefree days.
    Your pictures are a tribute to some of the wonderful youth we have today.
    When I read this it puts all the troubles of the world away.
    Seize the day!!!


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