Photos: North Coast Junior Lifeguards

When you go to the beach in Humboldt, there’s no one in red shorts, zinc sunscreen, and buoy in hand ready to rescue you from the treacherous rip currents. The concept of lifeguards is completely foreign to much of the North Coast. That is changing this summer with the introduction of the first-ever North Coast Junior Lifeguards program.

Kevin Harder, a state parks ranger and lifeguard himself, has had the vision of starting a Junior Lifeguard (JG) program on the North Coast for the last few years, and this year it finally came to fruition. “JG programs exist all over the state and are very popular so it made sense, with our ocean oriented community, to offer the same here,” stated Harder. Just like in Southern California, the program is an intense three weeks of ocean safety, rescue techniques, physical fitness, first aid, CPR, surfing, bodyboarding, swimming, running, and competitions. Teamwork, leadership, respect for others, respect for oneself, and respect for the environment, are all emphasized throughout the program.

Despite being the first year offered, the cold water, and rough ocean conditions, the program reached maximum capacity, with about 50 kids participating. Helping Harder train and keep a watchful eye over the kids are two certified lifeguards, several junior guard assistants and a local woman surfer.

A typical day starts out with stretches, push-ups, crunches, and a talk about the day’s ocean conditions. Then the JGs participate in the morning “vitamin,” some sort of work-out such as a run-swim-run, paddle or rescue exercise. It is called a vitamin because you don’t really want to do it but you feel better after and it keeps you healthy. During lunch, the group is often visited by a guest speaker, such as Surfrider, so they can gain an understanding of pertinent environmental topics. The rest the day is oriented a specific activity, such as paddle boarding in Big Lagoon, hiking Trinidad Head or surfing Moonstone Beach.

“At all stages of the program safety is the primary consideration,” said Harder. Every day he and his team assess conditions before deciding the days activities. They have a schedule but are prepared to make adjustments at a moments notice. During and upon completion of the course, they are not advocating JG’s practice or perform any of the skills they learned unless conditions are appropriate.

The North Coast Junior Lifeguards aren’t the only group of youngsters braving the ocean elements this summer. The Moonstone Beach Endless Summer Surf Camp is also out enjoying the cold water. Last Thursday, the two camps came together with The Shop, and Humboldt Surfrider to host the 1st annual Ocean Festival, a day dedicated to enjoying the ocean together.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect, with sunshine and two-foot kid-sized waves. All 70 kids participated in a surf contest divided into three age divisions and judged by several local surfers. After there was an award ceremony in which first, second, and third place from each age division were given a trophy curtesy of The Shop. After that the kids participated in a “taplan relay.” This is a popular lifeguard competition and consists of a run, swim, and paddle. The Ocean Festival was certainly organized chaos, but and all the kids had the look of ultimate stoke splashed across their face.

Between the North Coast Junior Lifeguards and Moonstone Beach Endless Summer Surf Camp, more youth than ever are getting the chance to learn how to enjoy our North Coast safely and enjoyably.

Check out the North Coast Junior Lifeguards on Facebook HERE and Instagram @northcoastjrlifeguards

Check out Moonstone Beach Surfcamp HERE.