Starting ’em Early

A large south swell presented a life-threatening situation for two visitors last year at Kiahuna Beach. Luckily, Jack Machorek, a Kauai High School sophomore, saw the distressed swimmers after they were sucked out to sea by a rip current. He told his mom to call 911, grabbed a friend and a couple of bodyboarding fins, and swam out to calm the visitors until lifeguards arrived on Jet Skis to bring them safely back to shore. He attributes the successful rescue to his years of Kauai Junior Lifeguard training.

“I learned how to stay calm and talk to the person in distress, and keep them calm and safe,” he says.

Those are precisely the kind of skills the program is designed to instill. Kauai Junior Lifeguard Program educates keiki about ocean awareness and safety, training them to conduct a rescue and how to properly assess water conditions.

“It prepares you to be able to react to situations in the water so that you and the person in trouble are safe throughout the whole situation,” explains Kahiau Niheu, an Island School sophomore.

The free weeklong summer course, made possible by Kauai Lifeguard Association, is divided into two sections — Keiki Junior Lifeguards ages 8-12, and Junior Lifeguards ages 13-17 — and is offered at different sites across the island, from Hanalei Bay to Salt Pond. Each class enlists 50 students, but classes are so popular that some kids are left on a waiting list.

The two groups learn other invaluable skills, including sportsmanship and physical prowess, by participating in relays and various waterand sand-related competitions. In fact, the Junior Lifeguard team does so well in this arena that it earned its 12th consecutive state championship this year.

“Their drive is what sets them apart,” says Randy Ortiz, Kauai County lifeguard training/prevention captain and one of the founders of the program.

This year’s competition was held in Kona with teams from around the state. There are six events, including a 1,000-meter run and a paddle-board relay. Though the Kauai team demonstrated plenty of skill prior to leaving for Hawaii island, they were nervous this year, since many of their skilled teammates had gone on to college.

“I was a little worried about how we would do this year. Kauai had a big target on our backs,” says Machorek.

After the final results were tabulated last month, it turns out the reigning champs had nothing to worry about.

“We were really excited to keep our streak going,” says Machorek.

David Duncan, a lifeguard at Salt Pond and a Keiki Junior Lifeguard trainer, was proud to see the “grandest members of the community shine.

“It’s a good reflection of the quality of the community,” he says.

Eugene Ancheta, a life-g uard at Kealia who started the program with Ortiz in 1997, agrees.

“They have a lot of heart and they know what to do to win fairly, which is what we train them to do,” he says. “All the effort you put into it makes it worth it.”

Ortiz couldn’t imagine doing anything other than lifeguarding and passing his knowledge to others.

“I want to teach the younger kids the importance of safety and not to take things for granted just because you live here. There are dangers,” he says.

His daughter Kelsey, who has been a Keiki Junior Lifeguard for five years, will graduate to the older group this summer. She appreciates the information she has garnered from the course and is excited for the upcoming season.

“You have the knowledge of the ocean and its dangers, and you learn how to prevent that,” she says.

Plus, it’s a great summertime activity that gets kids out of the house and into the water.”

“I’m one of those kids who doesn’t like to sit around during the summer and play video games. I like to be out and active. I love hanging out with all of my friends and the coaches,” says Machorek. “It’s just a fun time.”