Sun, beach, surf, education and discipline. An unlikely combination, indeed, but add 16 dedicated instructors and 700 enthusiastic boys and girls ages 9 to 17 and you've got the Huntington Beach Summer Junior Lifeguard Program.
Tryouts are held the last two weeks of May and the first weeks of June at the Fountain Valley High School swimming pool. But the only vacancies are left by those participants who do not return from the previous summer.
The physical requirement for new members is to swim 100 yards in under 1 1/2 minutes. The cost of participating in the eight-week program is $140. This summer's 700 junior lifeguards are divided into two groups--the morning and afternoon--and their lessons last four hours a day.
The fee pays for equipment, instructors' salaries and about half the cost of the trips they take during the summer, according to Mike Eich, the program's assistant coordinator.
"We have five instructors who are full-time teachers, two who are studying for law degrees , and one engineer," said Eich, himself a science teacher at Fountain Valley High. "It's a successful program and a lot of professional people recognize it.
"This is one of the golden programs of the city of Huntington Beach. The City Council backs us 100% every year."
The junior lifeguard program was started in 1962, with 30 students--all boys. In 1971, girls were allowed to participate.
Eich, who was in the program during the summers of 1968 and '69, explained: "When I first started teaching in the program, our attitude was, 'We have 700 people we (the lifeguards) don't have to worry about.' Now it's built itself up so much that it's paying itself back."
In fact, 75% of all Huntington Beach lifeguards are alumni of the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard Program.
"This (lifeguard instruction) is something that I take a lot of pride in," said Eich, who has been involved in lifeguard training for the last 10 years.
Explaining the program's aims, Eich said: "Our primary concern is ocean safety. Second, we teach first aid and CPR. In addition, we place importance on good sportsmanship and discipline."
The program is divided into three age divisions: A, ages 14 to 17; B, ages 12 and 13, and C, ages 9 to 11.
The A division is composed of three subdivisions. The first is made up of high school students who are in their first year of training or who are involved merely for social reasons.
The second is for those with program experience but who were unable to become lifeguards for one reason or another. They serve as safety aides to the younger students.
And then there are the captains, those students who are future lifeguards. This elite group of 10 boys and 10 girls is a dedicated one.
Junior lifeguards must pass the first aid, CPR and lifeguarding tests at a higher level to be ranked captains. They must pass several endurance tests, such as swimming around the Huntington Beach Pier three times and running six miles in a combined time of less than an hour and 10 minutes.
Another test is the Laguna Run. Here, junior guards combine running and swimming from Aliso Pier in Laguna Beach to the Huntington Beach Pier. There is no time limit--they just need to finish it.
"Mr. Eich works us really hard, but he makes it fun," said Kelli Quinn, a 15-year-old sophomore from Tustin High who is spending her fifth summer in the program and first as a captain.
David Prior, 16, agreed. The instructors are strict, he said, "but they also have a good sense of humor.
"I'll use lifeguarding to pay for college and then decide what I want to do for a living."
Prior, a junior at Fountain Valley High, has been a junior lifeguard for seven years. This is his second year as a captain.
"People have 'pre-thoughts' about female lifeguards. But I think girls can do anything guys can do," said 17-year-old Amy Martin, who is spending her eighth year as a junior lifeguard and second as a captain.
Becoming a captain offers a number of benefits.
Captains can spend a weekend at USC's Marine Biological Institute on Santa Catalina and study marine life.
There are also the educational exchange programs during winter vacation. In these, 16 junior lifeguards live in either New Zealand, Australia or New South Wales for 2 1/2 weeks. There, they participate in those countries' summer junior lifeguard programs. In turn, foreign lifeguards spend time in Huntington Beach during the summer.
"In most countries, they don't pay their lifeguards, so the quality is different (from the American lifeguarding standards)," Eich said. "A lot of times, coming to America and seeing our lifeguards is a real eye-opener for them."
Next summer, Eich plans to have 20 junior guards and two instructors attend the World Lifesaving Conference to be held in Germany. The two-week conference will have representatives from 21 different countries.