Junior Lifeguards learn beach safety while having fun

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

"Fun," "tiring" and "hard" were just a few of the words some of the youths used to describe the Junior Lifeguard Program held at Henderson Beach last week in Destin. 

“It’s been fun, but it’s been hard,” said 8-year-old Brantley Barniv of Niceville after he walked onto the beach after finishing one the drills Wednesday morning. 

“Trying to get through the crashing waves is hard, and the big waves want to pull you back,” added Barniv, a first-timer in the program. 

Junior Lifeguard Program participant Luci Williams rides a wave past instructor Tom Miller during an exercise Wednesday at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin.

About 50 youths ages 8-17 came out for Session II of the Junior Lifeguard Program sponsored by the Destin Fire Control District. Session I was held in June.

Each session is two weeks, with the swimmers on the beach from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday. 

Participants have the chance to learn a variety of skills. 

The group is divided into first-year participants and those who have been through the program previously. On Wednesday, there were about 30 first-timers and 18 or so who were second-year participants and above in the program. 

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“We take it slow the first week to assess each swimmer ... the ability is wide range,” said Tom Miller, lead/academic instructor with Destin Beach Safety Junior Lifeguards. “In this age group we teach them knowledge about water safety, beach conditions, how to spot rip currents, how to do what they just did and not panic.”

Junior Lifeguard Program participants stand with surfboards on the shore as they wait to be called into the water Wednesday morning at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin.

The first-timers had just finished doing a drill in which they swam out about 100 yards to a buoy and back with a lifeguard can strapped to them. 

“They are learning how to get through the surf and back … because it’s very strong,” said Miller, who added that the hard thing is to teach them to dive under the waves. 

Kat Nielsen, 13, of Bluewater Bay, said she loves the class. 

“I love it. I think it’s great,” said Kat, who added that she’s gaining a new respect for the Gulf of Mexico. “I think I took the ocean for granted.  

“It’s a little nerve wracking being out there. The hard part was trying to get over the waves (with the can attached). I thought it was going to pull me back. … It did a little,” she added. 

Junior Lifeguard Program participant Kat Nielsen rides a wave back to shore during an exercise Wednesday at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin.

John Luke, 11, of Niceville, decided to give the Junior Lifeguard program a try because his brother is a lifeguard. 

“I like swimming,” John said. “It’s pretty fun and I like it, and a lot of my friends are here, too.” 

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However, he said the swim around the buoy tired him out, but not as much as some of the other drills. 

After the swim around the buoy, the juniors got to play a game in which they had to pull tennis balls out of the water before they brought out the surfboards. 

And it wasn’t long until one of the young ones asked, “Are we going surfing?” 

It wasn't about surfing, but to learn to stay on the board. 

Participants in Destin Fire Control District's Junior Lifeguard Program listen to instructions during one of the sessions Wednesday at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin.

“Just getting out there and staying on the board,” Miller said of the lesson. “For some, it’s a new experience … just staying on the board.” 

“It was pretty hard,” 8-year-old Nic Baturym said. “I hit my head a couple of times on the board. When I flipped over, the board went over and hit me on the head.” 

But like the others, “It’s pretty fun … I like it,” he said. 

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Luci Williams, 12, of Destin, said her dad signed her up for the class. 

“It’s been fun, but very tiring … just like the waves always splashing at you,” she said. 

“But I’m learning how to swim with a can, how to stay on a board, and I’m pretty sure we’re learning CPR later,” Luci added. 

But most of all, “I like the fact that we can swim in the water,” she said. 

The program was to wrap up with a field trip to Emerald Coast Scuba, where the youths would get in a pool with tanks and learn hand signals. 

Hope Heumphreus and other Junior Lifeguard Program participants sprint off the beach with their boards during an exercise Wednesday at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin.

On July 24, the second year and up junior lifeguards will compete against other beach safety programs in various activities at Pompano Joe's in Miramar Beach. 

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When youths walk away from the Junior Lifeguard Program, they will know how to “use the boards and do rescues,” Miller said. 

This the 15th year for the program, which for the past 10 years has been held at Henderson Beach State Park. 

“The park is just super with us,” Miller said, noting that other visitors give them room on the beach as well. “It’s a blast.”