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I live in the beautiful sunshine state, Florida. Compared to others, I may have gotten into the life-guarding gig a little late (I started at twenty-two), but I figure every person who lives in a state with beaches lining it up and down ought to try being a lifeguard at least once in their life. In the city of Orlando, there are a lot of water parks, and I happen to work in the newest one: Volcano Bay. Not only was I getting used to being a lifeguard, I also had to contend with the struggles of a major theme park opening. If you've clicked on this because you too are contemplating joining up, then I sincerely hope what I offer can help you make a better informed decision. If you have opened this up on a lark, then it might just give you a good chuckle or two.
1. It's either very easy or very frustrating.
Okay, so number one is kind of contrary, isn't it? If you read the articles and the reviews, you might have run across a lot of information that would lead you to believe it's a very taxing job. To be a lifeguard is to take into your hands the lives of countless people who come to enjoy the waters you are in charge of. You are responsible for ensuring that your attention is sharp and your reflexes are sharper in order to aid a struggling swimmer or, at worst, save the life of a victim.
This is all true, on a broad scope. On a regular day though? What you're probably going to do is roam back and forth in your assigned zone of coverage, watching people mess around below you or beside you until the next person in your rotation comes along to bump you to the next spot. You'll smile and nod, scanning your water and being grateful to your sunglasses for hiding the dead-eyed gaze you're sporting halfway through your shift.
Yes, of course, there will be days when you have to make rescues. The most common thing you'll do is jump in for someone who just lost balance and panics, or for lost kids who start bawling. Those days? I'd say in any given week, you're lucky it's just the one. If it's busy, two or three times a week. Although I do know someone who had to make four rescues in one shift.
Furthermore, how busy you are depends on your classification. Specifically, if you're a shallow water guard or a deep water guard. Everything I wrote in that previous paragraph was about deep water guards, of which I am one. Let me tell you, though, I have absolutely the deepest respect for shallow guards because they're the ones in the catchpools continuously seeing people and moving tubes. It's exhausting. You're in the water all the time, people might kick you as they come down slides or flip out of tubes, or lots of people come down at once and you may have to deal with a surplus of tubes, depending on your attraction . . .
2. It's a great way to boost self-esteem.
This one is kind of obvious, isn't it? You're working in a water park, surrounded by guests both local and international. That mix of people means a plethora of different styles of swim attire from the conservative to the near sinful. And guess what? You're in a swimsuit (or trunks) too! Of course your uniform is a modest one piece, and you have the option to don shirts and shorts over it. I wore every article of clothing religiously when I first started, mostly because any barrier against the sun in addition to my sunscreen was a good thing, but also because I wasn't too confident in myself.
Let me tell you, though, by June I got over that real quick. First of all, my work shirts are cotton, so if they got wet even once that was it for the entire day, and wearing a damp shirt all day irritated me. Second...look, there are a lot of people who come into the parks, okay? Of all shapes, sizes, what have you. You watch these people and see that all they're interested in is having a good time and getting their money's worth. Do you think that any one of them really care as to what someone else would think of their choice of clothing? Nope. They wore what was comfortable for them, what was fashionable in their part of the world and what made them feel good. Eventually, that kind of devil-may-care attitude just rubs off on you. Who cares what anyone thinks of your bared arms and thighs in your swimsuit? No, really, you aren't getting paid to care.
3. It's not a comfortable job.
Physically, there's a lot that can discomfort you about your job. Rain, wind, heat, cold...like I said before, I live in Florida, but as you might be aware, this year the whole country was affected by some radical weather. Meaning I've never felt a winter this cold in Florida practically ever in my life.
The summer was near unbearable in 2017. The average temperature was around 100 degrees (F) and it didn't really stray too far from that daily, so you knew when you showed up to work you had to slather on sunscreen before your shift and on your breaks if you didn't want a painful sunburn. Sweat was something you would have to learn to ignore and pretend that the droplets sliding down the small of your back or on your neck didn't tickle you. You drank water like it filled your veins instead of blood, and had to contend with dry everything when you inevitably drank it all halfway through your bump (this depends on staffing, because you might get someone to fill your water bottle up).
The only salvation was a thunderstorm. Not because of the rain, but the lightning. If it was just a matter of rain, so long as it wasn't whipping sideways, then you stayed on your post and kept scanning your water. It was only if lightning got near your area that you were then allowed to clear guests out of the water and go seek shelter for yourself. Many of us in the parks dearly wished for storms to come for a small break in the middle of the day because even if it only lasted ten minutes, that was ten minutes off stand to sort of relax.
Remember when I said this winter had been the coldest I'd ever known? I don't know how other water parks handle it, but we were open many a cold day. As lifeguards working in a water park, there are some things you have to do that guards at pools or beaches don't. That is, to test ride your attractions to ensure they are safe for guests to enjoy. That means going down on those tubes or sliding along on those mats, or crossing your limbs and dropping to the bottom. In the summer when temperatures rose to eighty-five at eight in the morning, this was a blessing. In the winter when you were in at seven and it hadn't even reached fifty-five? Not such a blessing. However, it is unavoidable. You have two options then: either buck up and take the initiative to spare someone else, or hope you can make like a ninja to avoid catching the eye of your team lead. Also, bring an extra pair of your uniform just in case. Besides that, just standing at your spot, be it on the river or in a catchpool, while the wind whips around you can suck majorly. Heaven forbid you have to go into the water, because yeah it's warm, but coming out of it is . . . it's torture.
4. You have to up your skin care game.
What I mean is...hydration is so important. Not just for your internal functions, but also externally. Do you know how bright and strong the sun can get in summer in some parts? Florida especially?
So first of all, you're going to need sunscreen. You can totally just grab whatever bottle or tube they recommend in your local drug store, or whatever brand your parents bought for you to prevent you from becoming sunburned in your childhood. However, I would suggest doing some more research than that. For example, I spent about four days researching the better kinds of sunscreen, and for the sake of efficiency, I'll keep it clear and concise. You're going to want zinc sunscreen, not a spray. Definitely the nice, thick creamy ones in tubes. I am definitely a fan of Neutrogena's zinc products; however, if you find another that you really like, that's fine. Just make sure IT HAS ZINC. Please remember that just one application will not keep you for all day. You're going to have to reapply every few hours; sooner if you're in the water a lot.
Beyond that, you still have a lot of work to do to help your skin even before and after work. Between the thick layers of sunscreen, the massive amounts of sweat, chlorine, dirt or sand...there is a lot that is attacking your skin at work and so you need to get used to keeping up a routine during and after showers. I mean the whole deal: good soaps (Aveeno has a great bar that helps even skin tone, and LUSH sells this wonderful soap called Plum Rain that also nourishes skin and evens coloring), and lotions. Lotions is a personal preference for the individual. It's whatever you like so long as it guarantees proper hydration and soothing qualities. Again, Aveeno, Nivea, even Bath and Body Works has some really great products that offer 24-hour protection. Personally, I love me some B&BW, because they smell wonderful and really do keep my skin soft. I'm also going to throw in LUSH and their amazing shower smoothies or body conditioners. Yes, I have a bit of an obsession with these brands.
5. You sort of never stop guarding.
It's one of those jobs that never really leaves you, even when your place of employment is a dark silhouette in your rear view mirror. You'll catch yourself traipsing through the park, walking through grocery stores or even in your own pool at home still scanning.
Scanning for what? You don't even know.
You wear sunglasses all the time at work, until eventually you literally cannot handle any level of light until dusk hits without your sunglasses. You find yourself reaching for your sunscreen even when you're heading to the mall and you meant to grab the mango butter. It's sad.
After you become a lifeguard, you will actually start looking at people (that scanning thing, never stop scanning) and the moment you glimpse some sign of possible distress, you low-key start assessing the scene and wondering if you've got gloves on you in case this person keels over. Which, written down like this, it sounds all noble and everything, but be in line at the movies watching these kids talk and inhale popcorn at the same time and see if you don't just wind up tight waiting for one of them to start choking. Or seeing kids running and you start off with the, "Hey please don't..." before you realize you're not in uniform so yelling at other people's kids isn't acceptable off duty.
Well, those are the five biggest lessons I can think of. Anything else is just too small to really work on giving you a good sense of the job in its entirety. I think it's a job that you should experience if you're interested in it. I can tell you right now, it is not for everyone. If you decide being a lifeguard isn't for you, then that is okay! There will be days (many of them) where you go home with feet aching and eyes tired from sun and strain. Where you're skin looks like you just rolled around in ashes and your mouth is almost numb from how parched you get. There will be days you go home soaking wet because someone had a bit of trouble just five minutes before closing. Or you had in-service at night. One of the two. You have to ask yourself if this kind of job is what you want to do. It's physically, and mentally demanding. On occasion, due to guest service, it can even be emotionally demanding. You just have to make the best decision for you.