What does it take to become a Tybee Island lifeguard?

Local News

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — The lifeguards on Tybee Island train hard each season to make sure beachgoers and swimmers are safe out on the water.

But what exactly does it take to become a qualified lifeguard? 

WSAV Now tagged along for one of the 2020 season’s lifeguard tryouts to find out.

It’s currently the off-season for Tybee’s lifeguards, and the season starts on April 3.

In the meantime, for those that are up for the challenge, Ocean Rescue tryouts are underway. There are different rounds of tryouts spread out over weekends between January and March.

“Due to a lot of our applicants being students, we spread our tryouts over a few months to give plenty of opportunity for them to apply and come to a tryout,” said Capt. Matt Harrell, who heads the Ocean Rescue division of the Tybee Island Fire Department. 

These sessions are designed to test the agility of those that want to become qualified to save lives.

The tryouts begin with a one-and-a-half-mile run, shortly followed by a 500-meter swim in a pool — and each task has to be completed in under 14 minutes.

Next, applicants have to tread water for two minutes without using their hands. Then, they have to swim out into the pool and collect submerged rings on one breath.

They’ll also have to swim down and collect an eight-pound brick from underwater.

“It’s basically a pool certification that we transfer to the beach,” said Tony Christiansen, who’s been a Tybee lifeguard for the past decade. 

“After you qualify for that, there are a certain amount of medical exams that you have to go through, and a course on medical treatment that you have to pass, and then we kind of do an assessment on those tests,” he said.

Christiansen says he finds the seasonal job fun and rewarding, but it does come with its challenges.

He says a difficult aspect of lifeguarding, whether by the pool or at the beach, is dealing with unexpected elements.

“The people who we rescue, they’re the unexpected element,” Christiansen told News 3.

“We don’t know how they’re going to react, we don’t know who they are, we don’t know if they’re very capable of swimming and they’re just ignoring us or they’re actually in danger,” he said. “So a difficult part of the job is the stress of encountering that unexpected element.”

However, Tybee lifeguards are well-trained to meet those challenges should they arise, says Maddy Williams, who began her lifeguard experience training under Christiansen.

She tells News 3 that the team definitely makes sure that their lifeguards are ready for anything.

“They just really put you through the paces,” Williams said. 

“My real week one of starting, we had an incident where a woman had a seizure in the water, and I was so calm, and I was so ready,” she said.

“You almost feel weird because you’re so calm, but they really make sure to prep you for everything.”

Tybee usually has between 35 and 40 lifeguards working during the season, Christiansen said.

“We’ve had upwards of a little over 50, and there are some years where we’re struggling at 25, but on average, there are around 30 guards that come in and out,” he said. 

During the off-season, the Tybee Island Fire Department picks up the slack, since their firefighters are also trained as lifeguards.

“They don’t actively sit in towers like we do,” Christiansen said. 

“They kind of rove around and then they respond to calls, but they are prepared to get in the water during the winter,” he added. 

Williams said that for her, the most rewarding aspect of lifeguarding is completing a successful rescue, in the unfortunate event that one is needed.

“Obviously you would never wish anything bad, but they prep you for anything bad, and when you do everything correctly and everyone is okay, it’s such a rush,” Williams said.

“You feel really accomplished, and that’s the best part,” she said.

Anyone interested in becoming a Tybee Island lifeguard is encouraged to visit cityoftybee.org for details. 

“I would really recommend if you have a free summer and you want to get outside, have a good time, get paid pretty well and do some pretty intense stuff, then you should try out,” Christiansen said. 

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