Mitch who??

My Dad lifeguarding at Blackpool beach in the late 1950's

My Dad (2nd from right) lifeguarding at Blackpool beach in the late 1950’s

Christmas day at work. El Médano, Tenerife. 2012. I am on the right.

Christmas day at work. El Médano, Tenerife. 2012. I am on the right.

At the moment I am working part-time as a lifeguard at El Médano in Tenerife. I have worked on and off as a lifeguard, mostly as supervisor, for 7 years now. When not working I have been volunteering or assisting on courses. It is a job I enjoy, one might say I am passionate about (although if it’s around the ocean that is a given for me). It remains a job that is greatly misunderstood by many. The series ”Baywatch” brought to light the work carried out by lifeguards for decades, only it did so ”a lá hollywood”. The series has been off air for a good while and only yesterday as I patrolled the beach I heard a comment from a German tourist that ended in ”Mitch Buchannan”. I smile, I carry on. You see the thing is, no one appreciates or even likes a lifeguard until you need us. When that rip current pulls you away from shore and safety, when your child is lost or when your grandmother drops from heat exhaustion. People hate us as they think we are policing and spoiling their fun. Simply we are doing our job. Trying to ensure that the beach is a safe and fun environment for EVERYONE. Most think it is either a glamorous job full of tanned bodies, beach parties and sand or others think we get paid too much and spend all day working on our tans. I can’t say that there isn’t a minority who fall into these categories. All jobs are the same, there will always be bad apples. What I am sure about is that it is a hard job, harder than most will appreciate. First of all the sun. Whoopy do!! Not really…. we hate it. You try sitting in 35ºC heat for 8-10 hours in summer. Sweat trickles down your spine in a milky rivulet as the factor 50 sunscreen washes away. Your uniform was plastered to you since you put it on and will stay that way until you get home. You have pretty much resigned to the fact that skin cancer will be a given, despite wearing you hat, sunglasses and pasting yourself in sunscreen. By the time you get home your head is baked like a potato and you just want to go to bed. But you close your eyes and the sun’s reflection from the water is seared into your retina so much so that you might as well leave the light on. Then we have the tension, yes tension. On a good day it is OK. You watch the water, patrol, chat with beach goers. On a bad day though….. you have a knot in you stomach all day, it eats away at you leaving you drained. It doesn’t even have to be a day with currents or rough seas. It os almost like a sixth sense, from our primeval lizard brain. You just get that gut feeling that something is going to happen. When it does it is almost a relief. Then there is the really bad side. One of the first rules of lifeguarding….not everyone makes it. You try to do everything right. You put up warnings, talk to risk users such as elderly people or children, your eyes never stray from the water. Even after all this some people end up in trouble. Sometimes, you do it all right, you do all you can and on rare occasions it isn’t enough. Those days are harder than you can imagine, it is something you take home with you for a long time. On of my overriding memories, one from 7 years ago, is of a little elderly gentleman trying to give us a tip after pulling his wife from the surf and performing CPR for over an hour. She died. He came on holiday for a little break with the woman he loved and now he was all alone. Yet still the next day he came to see us offering 50 euros as a thank you. I have never felt so frustrated in all my life I think..I just wanted to hug him. Even today I can still see him trudging up the beach all alone. Of course there are good calls too. We saw her swimming about 70m offshore, starting to tire. We reached her just as her head slipped forward into the wavelets and in no time at all we were performing assisted breathing with oxygen. By the time the ambulance arrived she was breathing on her own, although still unconscious. Three days later she was back, and far from the pale grey look of death she was tanned and smiling and carrying a box of chocolates. So you see, it isn’t about sunbathing and tan lines. It is an honest job, one where when called for we willingly put our lives on the line for what is a very low wage. We love it, be it Christmas day or the height of summer we are there 365. We get to be with the ocean all day, watch children play, couples chase each other, people get their adrenaline kick in the surf…… I don’t think you can put a price on that.

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