'Different than anything you'll see at home': Australian lifeguards share skills in Destin

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

They’ve only been here a few weeks, but they are already making a difference. 

Grant Cook, 22, and Charly McMullan, 24, of Australia are working as lifeguards with the Destin Fire and Rescue Beach Safety Division for the next few months as part of an exchange program that started in 2008.

Destin Beach Safety Director Joe D’Agostino had the opportunity to be in a lifeguard exchange program in 1999. 

“It changed my life,” he said.

Charly McMullan and Grant Cook are here from Australia to work as lifeguards along Destin beaches.

“I have always wanted to perpetuate that and keep that going, to be able to send some of our guys over there during our winter to improve their skill set, and then give Australians the opportunity to come here to help us out,” D’Agostino said. 

And that is exactly what Cook and McMullan are doing. 

"They are unbelievable – the skill sets are amazing,” D’Agostino said, noting that in Australia they start lifeguarding at a very young age. 

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“You hand most Australians a board, the same way you hand Americans a baseball glove. Every one of us can catch and throw a ball. Most of them can paddle a board and get through the surf. So, it does help to have that skill set,” D’Agostino said. 

In her first two days, McMullan, of Gold Coast, Australia, did seven rescues and a CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation). 

“It was just unnecessary,” said McMullan, who has been a professional lifeguard for eight years. “It’s not rough, people just have no awareness of water safety.

“They come down here and they get drunk and then go out in the rips and stuff.” 

Charly McMullan, 24, of Gold Coast, Australia has been a professional lifeguard for eight years. She will be working in Destin until about mid-September.

This is McMullan’s first time in America.

"It’s definitely a lot flatter, but the level of swimming around here is a lot lower than in Australia. We’ve had a lot of people getting in trouble in places they shouldn’t be,” McMullan said. 

"The beaches are beautiful, but I definitely think calm surf. And swimming awareness needs to be raised in schools around America to protect more people because people shouldn’t be drowning in the conditions we have been saving them in,” she said.

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As for the sugar white sand beaches of Destin compared with Gold Coast, McMullan said, “it’s not quite like this. This is fine and beautiful … a nice place to come and holiday.” In Australia, she said, the beach is like a “yellow sort of rock.” 

Although this is McMullan’s first time to Destin, that's not true for Cook. 

“This is my second time here in Destin. When I heard Joe was hiring, I was like I can’t get there quick enough, can I,” Cook said. 

“I just love the whole country,” said Cook who is from Sydney, Australia. 

Charly McMullan, 24, and Grant Cook, 22, are here from Australia to work as lifeguards along Destin beaches as part of the Beach Safety program with the Destin Fire District.

"Waking up in America is a great time to me … it makes me happy,” Cook said. 

“It’s so different than anything you’ll see at home,” he said of the beaches. 

"On the surface, it looks so calm, it looks so lovely, but then you have the snaky little stuff under the sea, which just pulls people out – the rip currents. You have to pay attention … to be able to see them,” Cook said. 

Cook has been a lifeguard since 2018. 

"Back home, people are more aware of how careful they should be because they have designated areas of where they can swim and not swim,” he said. 

More:Junior Lifeguards learn beach safety while having fun

McMullan said rescues in Australia are “a lot harder and away just because we have got to battle a lot more nature and big surf.”

Cook was supposed to come to Destin in 2020 but didn’t make the trip because of COVID and ended up going full time in Australia.

“We work all year,” McMullan said.

Cook has been in Destin almost two weeks. 

“I think I’ve been a bit lucky … only had about four or five shifts since I’ve been in country, and I’ve only had about six rescues. So, that was not too bad. Think someone upstairs is just looking out for me,” Cook said.

Grant Cook, 22, of Sydney, Australia jumped at the chance to come back to America and work as a lifeguard on Destin beaches.

“It’s a great thing that we’re able to come over here,” Cook said. “Out of the five years I’ve been working as a lifeguard, the last time I was here was the only time in my short career that I felt like I was actually able to make a difference. 

“I was able to help Joe by filling in. I was able to help the people around us, help them raise their water skills and they helped me raise my medical skills,” Cook said. 

Cook was working Tuesday alongside Harrison Smith of Destin on the beach at Shirah Street.

“Harrison will have better medical skills than the majority of Australians, while the majority of Australians will have better water skills," Cook said.

“It was one of those things where iron sharpens iron … it’s great to be able to learn off each other,” Cook said. 

Smith said he’s thankful to have the guards from Australia. 

“We have a junior lifeguard program, and when they see how good they are in the water, it makes them want to get that much better,” Smith said.

McMullan and Cook are just two of four who are here from Australia. Jahvi Woodhouse and Darcy McPherson are also here through mid-September. 

“We’re absolutely happy to have them … we’re stoked to get them back,” D’Agostino said.