Children between the ages of 12 and 17 participate in the Summer Junior Lifeguard Program at Hapuna Beach, starting the morning out with a run and a swim. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Participants in the Summer Junior Lifeguard Program practice applying a splint.(PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Participants work out with a swim during the Summer Junior Lifeguard Program at Hapuna Beach. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Students between the ages of 12 and 17 do jumping jacks as they participate in the Summer Junior Lifeguard Program at Hapuna Beach. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Children between the ages of 12 and 17 warm up and stretch during the Summer Junior Lifeguard Program at Hapuna Beach. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
From left, Timmy Kaheni, Hokua Tarnas, and Sihkea Jim learn to apply a splint while participating in the Summer Junior Lifeguard Program. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Knowledge of basic ocean safety is a fundamental need for any kid living in Hawaii. Just ask veteran lifeguard Bill “Black” Abraham.
“A lot of kids at the beach have no supervision. The goal of this program is ocean awareness and safety, and to educate our kids in basic CPR and first aid,” Abraham said.
Hawaii Island kids and parents seem to agree. The Junior Lifeguard Programs in Kona, Hilo and at Hapuna Beach Park are growing each year. Last week, Abraham coached more than 50 kids enrolled in this year’s program at Hapuna, where kids learn the fundamentals of ocean safety through drills and team exercises designed to build confidence, self-esteem and respect for one another.
“Each program is different,” Abraham said. “Here, I instill leadership and helping others through teamwork.”
And while it is not a lifeguard certification program, kids learn valuable, possibly life-saving skills and get a taste of what it’s like to assist beachgoers in trouble.
By working together, participants in the program learn basic first aid, like how to bandage a wound and set a splint. Games are designed to build camaraderie and communication. “Man overboard” involves four people in a canoe with one serving as outlook. In another exercise, the students split into two teams, and while some are blindfolded, they lock hands and cross the pavilion floor by stepping on two-by- fours. The game ends with cheering and fever pitch excitement.
“The games are to bring kids together as one. They are forced to mingle and get along,” Abraham said.
It also forces shy kids out of their comfort zone.
“They are leaders, they just have shyness issues. If we can bring them out, that’s a success. If they are at the beach where someone needs help they will be confident enough to be able to assist that person,” Abraham said.
The weeklong summer program also enforces physical stamina and endurance.
“It’s not as hard as people told me it would be,” said 15-year-old Brianna Dixon, who attended the program for the first time. She also added she might go on to become a lifeguard in the future.
Rachel Dixon, Brianna’s mother, is grateful for the program.
“I wish I had heard about the program sooner. Water safety is so important here,” she said.
Abraham has been a lifeguard for 22 years, starting out in Hilo and coming to Hapuna in 1994. Ocean safety is second nature to him. After observing unsupervised kids at the beach, he was inspired to start the Junior Lifeguard Program at Hapuna in 1996. It is now a family affair with wife Rebecca handling the paperwork, and 15-year-old Isaac, 13-year-old Wailea and 11-year-old Jeremy all participating in the program. Three-year-old Kaiulani also “assists” his dad.
Each year, the program culminates in a championship game designed to send the best participants from Hilo, Kona or Hapuna to the state championship, held this year on Maui. Participants compete in a 1,000-meter swim, run, paddleboarding and a game with beach flags. This year’s championship is July 20 at Hapuna Beach Park.
To join the program, kids must be at least 12 years old. They also must be able to swim, which means passing a 200-yard swim test that takes place at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy pool. Cost for the weeklong program is $20 and includes a T-shirt. The Junior Lifeguard Program is under the jurisdiction of the Fire Department, and supported by the Hawaii Lifeguard Association and the Alex and Duke DeRego Foundation. Like them on Facebook.