Zak Noyle

Junior Lifeguards

With Abe Lerner & Bryan Phillips

Words by Chris Latronic   |   Photos by Zak Noyle

The ocean will forever be a dangerous place for human beings, and the only way to minimize risk of injury is through endless education and experience. Fortunately, the Junior Lifeguard Program in the State of Hawai’i’i has been around to teach our growing keiki the skills and knowledge they need to stay safe and capable in case of an ocean emergency.  

Head organizers of the Junior Lifeguard Program:

Abe Lerner
Age: 42
Rescue Craft Operator
25 yrs as lifeguard

Bryan Phillips

Age: 30
Water Safety Officer II / Rescue Craft Operator
11 yrs as lifeguard

What is the Junior Lifeguard program? How long has the program been running?

BP: The Junior lifeguard program is a youth program aimed at increasing the self-confidence, physical conditioning, and ocean awareness of program participants through their introduction to water safety, first aid, and surf rescue techniques.

AL: The Junior Lifeguard Program was created by the City and County of Honolulu’s Ocean Safety Division, and was started back in 1990. It’s in its 25th year. The Junior Lifeguard Program is open to youths ages 13-17 and is developed to educate and promote ocean safety and awareness, and to give the adolescents of our community an important set of life skills that will help them succeed! Each week about 30 teens go through the program and leave with numerous rescue techniques, CPR capabilities, conditioning and training, career possibilities, and an overall better sense of the ocean and what our lifeguards do!

“The most fun thing about Junior Guards is learning ocean safety, meeting new friends and having something really fun to look forward to during the summer when the waves are flat,” says North Shore surfer and junior lifeguard Moana Jones.

Did you participate in the Junior Lifeguard program growing up? 

BP: I did the Junior Lifeguard program at ‘Ehukai every summer for 5 years. When I was 18, I volunteered to help all summer before I tried out to become a real beach lifeguard.

AL: I was not in the program, as I was in my first year of service as a lifeguard in 1990.

Bryan Phillips

Has the program changed much throughout the years?

BP: The core of the program has stayed pretty much the same since I was a kid. The last few years, we have added a cultural component by taking the kids to Waimea Bay once a week where Uncle Bob Leinau gives an amazing history lesson about Waimea. Thursdays at the Bay is definitely a highlight of our program.

“The history lesson from Bob is so interesting to me because I grew up on the point of Waimea Bay,” says North Shore surfer/skater and junior lifeguard Evan Mock. “I love hearing old stories of what went down in the Bay and the recourses it provided.”

AL: The Junior Lifeguard Program sessions have remained constant throughout the years; lots of training, rescues, beach runs, swims, snorkels, guest speakers, etc.

What can kids learn from being in the program?

BP: The kids learn all the same rescue techniques we use on the beach as trained lifeguards; cross chest carry, fins and tube, rescue board and the rescues utilizing the jet ski. We also teach them some basic first aid and CPR. The program is a great stepping stone for anyone who is interested in becoming a lifeguard.

What’s your best and worst experiences of being part of the Junior Lifeguard program?

BP: Junior Guards was always the highlight of my summer. I love being able to help the kids in my community have a safe and fun learning environment. The worst experience was about 5 years ago when the City and County canceled the Junior Lifeguard program in our district. Luckily, the North Shore Lifeguard Association stepped up to the plate. With much need financial support from folks in our community, we successfully ran the program ourselves that year.

AL: My best experience was just being an instructor one summer years ago, and just passing on my knowledge to the next generation. I still volunteer every Friday to the program to educate the kids on our rescue craft and the techniques for rescuing persons with the jetski!

“The Ski operating team is like no other ski operation team in the world,” adds Evan Mock. “To me they are the most experienced people on this planet and I respect them heavily. Learning about what they do and how they do it is super special to the kids who look up to them.”

Any stories of great rescues by junior lifeguards?

BP: This last winter, professional surfers and former ‘Ehukai Junior Lifeguards Eli Olsen and Kiron Jabour helped surfboard shaper Dennis Pang. Dennis suffered a neck injury at Sunset Beach and Eli and Kiron extricated him safely out of the shoreline while taking spinal precautions. Eli and Kiron had recently been refreshed on the techniques at the Big Wave Safety summit this past winter, but they had originally learned that technique at the Junior Lifeguard program.

Tell us about the Junior Lifeguard competition. How is Hawai’i’i faring against the rest?

BP: At the end of the summer, the north, south, east and west shores of Oahu’s Junior Lifeguard programs are invited to compete in different running, swimming, paddling, beach flags and lifeguarding events. There are individual winners of each event as well as an overall district winner. It is a great day of competition where the kids go hard to the wall! We have not yet competed in the Nationals, but we are hoping to as soon as we secure funding.

AL: The Junior Lifeguard competition brings the kids together at the end of the summer to compete against each other in all the lifeguard skills they have learned while enrolled in the program. There is an Oahu competition and then a state competition. The North Shore kids always do really well but the Kauai kids have been winning the states for the past few years.

“A lot of Kauai groms participate in the program during the summer when the North Shore is flat,” says Kauai surfer and guest editor Mainei Kinimaka. “It’s great cross training, a lot of fun, and brings the community together to cheer our teams on during competitions both in state and nationally. For the past 11 years the Kauai team has won states, and the last two years we’ve travelled to California and Virginia Beach for Lifeguard Nationals, where we placed 2nd overall.”

Mainei also mentions that the program teaches juniors proper ocean safety, how to asses the ocean and make decisions in a critical or dangerous situation, and how to give back to the community by using their skills to help beach goers stay safe. “Several drownings on our island have been avoided thanks to trained junior guards who have successfully saved victims of large surf and strong rip tides,” says Mainei.


What is the future of the Junior Lifeguard program? Anything new on the horizon?

BP: In the last few years, due to staffing and budget issues, the City and County of Honolulu can’t afford to run the Junior Lifeguard programs. So different non-profit groups from around Oahu have stepped up to run them. The North Shore Lifeguard Association (NSLA) is committed to always having a program on the North Shore at ‘Ehukai. This year the NSLA is hosting the Oahu Junior Guard championships on July 25th at Waimea Bay. We invite all kids from all the programs to come and compete! The State Championships will be held on the Big Island at the end of the summer.

AL: The future of the Junior Lifeguard Program is to continue to do it! However in recent years the City can no longer afford to fund it, so the North Shore Lifeguard Association has and will continue to fully support the North Shore Junior Lifeguard Program. And we will be running 5 weeks of the North Shore Junior Lifeguard Program this summer!



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