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The beaches of the Northern California are picturesque, but a very different scene than those in other parts of the state. Due to weather, water temperature, dangerous wave conditions, and pretty much no beach manned by a lifeguard — you don’t see many people swimming in the waters. It’s actually quite intimidating.

But California State Parks is aiming to change that by bringing its junior lifeguard program, focused on ocean rescue, to the North Coast.

In this LoCO Video Report we take you to the beautiful Trinidad State Beach where the program wrapped up its second two-week session of the summer with an Ironman competition, ocean rescue demonstration, and awards ceremony. Youth were grinning from ear-to-ear and parents, even passersby, were blown away at the amount of stamina and courage they exhibited.

“Before this camp I didn’t like going in the water at all,” said 14-year-old Christiana of Arcata. “But it’s taught me to not be afraid. The different skills have been helpful, like going under waves, the skills have made me not scared of going into the water anymore.”

These programs are huge in California but only spanned from San Diego to Santa Cruz, until last summer when state park aquatic rescue trained ranger, Keven Harder, spearheaded the effort. The program is for youth 8 to 16 and includes extensive ocean interaction, exploration, recreation, and safety. And although packed with fun, it’s very structured and the participants must first pass a series of swimming tests in order to qualify.

Harder says many of the youth come from local swim teams, but “a lot of them have never been in the ocean. So I think the kids really surprise themselves about how strong they become in two weeks. And what you saw in the ocean would not have happened two weeks ago. It was a lot different.”

The program is already a hit, and doubled in size from last summer with more than 100 participants. The experience also provides youth with confidence and the opportunity to understand and bond with the ocean, all while getting an education and exercise.

“It’s a physical program but the bread-and-butter is that we teach them basic rescue skills in the surf environment, and then the final day we execute a full rescue,” said Harder. “And we also teach basic first aid and CPR”

Harder adds that the program wouldn’t be possible without his team of professional lifeguards. They come in from out of the area, many from San Clemente, specifically to help instruct the program.

“Normally we just sit in towers and watch the beach,” said seasonal ocean lifeguard, Spencer Perkins. “So this is a thousand times hard but a million times more rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it, this is the best time I’ve ever had life-guarding at the beach.”

Youth also get to hear from a wide variety of guest speakers who are involved with emergency rescue, marine mammal rescue, aquatics, environmentalism, and more. Harder says he sees the program’s many benefits and plans to keep it going for years to come. Plus he’s is in the process of requesting professional lifeguard positions for the North Coast. But that will ultimately depend on funding. 

Watch the video to hear more and see these kids in action!

Additional program info here.