Sunday, January 25, 2015



Sand, surf and sweat were prevalent during the Hawaii State Junior Lifeguard Championships Saturday at Hapuna Beach, where 173 teens gathered to claim the title of the strongest and fastest on the beach.

These junior lifeguards from Hawaii Island, Maui, Kauai and Oahu competed in a 1,000-meter run, 200-meter swim, 100-meter run-swim-run, six-man paddle board relay, and beach flags. This annual competition showcased their skill, stamina and spirit.

Beach flags was the most entertaining and rowdiest event. It started with several competitors in each heat, laying belly-down in the sand with their toes on the starting line, facing away from the "flags," actually 1-foot lengths of hose, evenly spaced 60 feet away. There was one fewer flag than there were competitors in each round.

When the starter's whistle blew, participants hopped up, turned, and sprinted to grab a flag. Most competitors didn't hesitate to dive for the last flag. As in musical chairs, the person who didn't get a flag was eliminated. The process continued round by round until only the winner remained.

This was 15-year-old Kainalu Obayashi's third time competing in the contest. Though the teen from Hawaii Kai, Oahu, knew what to expect and has fine tuned his skills since the last challenge, he was "nervous." He had a simple strategy as he prepared for beach flags: "Block (the nervousness) out and do my best."

Following his cousin's recommendation in 2008, Obayashi joined the Junior Lifeguard Program, which taught him how to survive and thrive in the ever-changing ocean waters, showed him how to negotiate punishing shore break and how to avoid or swim safely out of rip tides and currents. He also got a taste of what his instructors from City and County of Honolulu's Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division do on a daily basis.

Every summer, Obayashi said he learns something new from the program and gains even more respect for lifeguards, who often prevent scary incidents from becoming tragedies. He now knows what dangers to look out for and what rescue skills can be applied. Still, Obayashi is "thankful" that he hasn't had to use those skills in action yet.

On Hawaii Island, personnel from the Fire Department's Ocean Safety Division voluntarily devote their time, energy, expertise and even their own money to teach the two-week Junior Lifeguard Program, held in two sessions every summer in South Kohala, Kona, Puna and Hilo. The program, costing about $20 per participant, is designed to improve water skills, develop a greater awareness of beach hazards and ocean conditions, promote team work and good sportsmanship, and train future lifeguards, said Gerald Kosaki, battalion chief of special operations that oversees the Ocean Safety Division.

The Junior Lifeguard Program not only teaches teens, ages 12 to 17, how to properly rescue someone from the water and stop bleeding, but also gives them lifelong skills in exercise and maintaining a healthy body, Kosaki said.

Various activities are offered, including using the rescue buoy and paddle board, administering first aid, and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Several participants return for the program year after year and some do become lifeguards, Kosaki added.

When 14-year-old Daniel Manzo of Kailua-Kona first heard about the program, he thought he was "too wussy" to participate and others would think he was "weird." Nevertheless, Manzo took his friend's advice, joined and was glad about his decision.

"Every experience has been like woo-hoo. I used to be scared of swimming deep in the ocean, but not anymore," he said. "With the help of my instructors, who are really fun and great, I swim a lot better, feel more confident at the beach, like paddleboarding and know skills like CPR. I'm even thinking about maybe becoming a lifeguard."

Sixteen-year-old Sky Hirsch of Maui is planning to run, swim and paddle his way toward the day when he may climb the tower to guard his own stretch of beach. Growing up close to the ocean, Hirsch has always wanted to be a lifeguard.

This is his second year participating in the Junior Lifeguard Program, run by the Maui County Department of Parks and Recreation. He described the job of a lifeguard as "intense," something he realized even more during this year's program when practicing rescues in 10-foot wave faces. Having "ferocious" waves crash down on him while attempting to save his mock victim made him question if lifeguarding was something he could handle. After completing the exercise, his answer was a resounding yes.

Hirsch explained how the Maui program is like a lifeguarding family and competitions like the Hawaii State Junior Lifeguard Championship bring them even closer. He also said the championship is a chance for teens to show their abilities -- the results of vigorous and fun training throughout the summer. He's always nervous prior to the event because "everyone's bigger and faster than last year."

After completing the 1,000-meter run, 16-year-old Kawai Barrett of Kauai called the event "intense" because "a lot of boys went nuts out there and were super fast." He crossed the finish line with the middle pack, but instead of sulking, he expressed gratitude for the competition and was content with his place.

Barrett wants to become a lifeguard, especially after meeting and interacting with the Kauai Fire Department's Ocean Safety Bureau instructors, all of whom he called "an inspiration." He was glad he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Chatson, and joined the Junior Lifeguard Program.

Results were not submitted as of press time and will be published when received.

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