Just because you watch "Jersey Shore" or — worse — were a member of the David Hasselhoff International Fan Club doesn't mean you really know what it's like to be a lifeguard. To find out, we went to the source: a veteran whistle-blower at a New Jersey beach. Enjoy your swimming!
The money is terrible
Lifeguard season is about four months long, from mid-May to September. First-year guards make about $10 an hour — not much — and we pay a lot of money to live in a house down on the shore. But it's the summertime — you gotta enjoy it.
We work harder than most people think
We actually work a lot harder than most people think. I've done more than 60 rescues now, in six years. Sometimes, a group of 30 or more people will all get swept out by a riptide at once. I can bring in five people at a time if I have a buoy, and two people if I don't. And I can get 10 to 15 guards to come help me within a minute or two. I've only lost two people, and they were swimming after hours. It was the worst riptide I'd ever seen. Awful.
Hot or not? We talk about everybody on the beach
Of course we talk about everybody on the beach — any flaw in any person. We buy our own walkie-talkie radios and communicate that way, about hot girls and everyone else who's not so hot. We always get these big, old French-Canadian guys who wear tiny thongs. It's a long day sitting in the chair. You have to entertain yourself.
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You don't want to know where we go to the bathroom
We pee in the water just like everybody else — some of the guards even go No. 2 in there. It's quicker than walking up to the bathrooms on the boardwalk. But we don't always want to get wet, so most of us pee without even leaving our chair. There's a technique to it. You know how most guards wear sweatpants? That's because it's easier to hide a Gatorade bottle in sweats than in shorts. You just stick the bottle down there and pee in it.
We party hard
We lifeguards have this motto: ATF, or Alive 'Til Five. It's our goal for the night. We get off of work at 5:30 p.m. Then we usually drink at the house before heading to the bars at 1 a.m. After they close, we go home around 3:30 a.m. and drink a few cases of beer until 5 a.m. I'm an old man of 24 now, so I usually fall asleep by 3 a.m. — and I always get heckled for it.
Some lifeguards sleep on the job
I party, but I'm a total worrywart, and I take my job seriously; no matter how hard I go out the night before, I'm always at work when our day officially starts, at 9:30 a.m. I never fall asleep on the job, especially with all the caffeine and tobacco in my system. But I know guys who will sleep for five hours straight up in the chair. They have their tricks. Some will roll a towel up, wrap it around their neck, and then tuck the ends between their legs to keep themselves from falling out of the chair. Others will wear a big sweatshirt and then hide an apple or orange under their chin, so it looks like they're looking straight ahead at the water.
Sex on the beach — it happens more than you might think
I have to break up a lot of fights, mostly high school kids. No one's allowed to drink on the beach, but everyone does — even the lifeguards on their days off. And, of course, it's illegal to have sex on the beach, but I always catch people doing it in the water. To be frank, I know a few lifeguards who have. But I always blow the whistle and put a stop to it, not just because it's illegal. It's a decency thing.
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