PO‘IPU — Roy Yamagata of the Ocean Safety Bureau could not believe the numbers.
“This is more people than I can ever remember,” Yamagata said, in between sessions of the Junior Lifeguard program yesterday at Po‘ipu Beach Park.
Yamagata, a veteran water safety officer at Po‘ipu Beach, said there are usually 20 to 30 participants — in contrast to this year’s 70.
Po‘ipu is one of five beaches hosting the program. Water safety officer David Duncan noted that there were between 40 and 50 students at Salt Pond, and 25 at Lydgate. In Hanalei, there are 18 students signed up. Kalapaki Beach is the final site to host the weeklong event, from July 7-11.
Kalani Vierra, a Junior Lifeguard instructor and Ocean Safety Bureau supervisor, attributes the strong turnout to Kaua‘i’s youngsters spending a lot of time at the beach from an early age.
Designed to teach ocean safety, lifesaving skills, physical conditioning and competition skills to young people, the program began with about a dozen kids in 1997 and has grown to more than 240.
Perhaps the program’s accomplishments have something to do with it, too. The Kaua‘i Junior Lifeguard team is the current reigning state champion and has defended that title for the past four years.
“This will be the fifth time we’re going to try for the state title,” Yamagata said. “This is why a lot of the students from the other programs ‘follow’ the program so they can get in practice in anticipation of the state competition.”
Yamagata noted that the record numbers are fitting, given the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s strong support of the program.
“He felt that it was an important part of the community to extend ocean safety to the younger people on the island, to make them feel that they can make a difference,” Yamagata said.
Representatives from all of the locations will gather for the Kaua‘i Championships, scheduled for July 19 at Kalapaki Beach.
Finalists in that event advance to defend the island’s state championship Aug. 2 at Ala Moana Beach Park on O‘ahu.
“We’re very proud of the participants,” Vierra said. “They have represented Kaua‘i well.”
The Junior Lifeguard program is free and open to students between the ages of 13 and 17. For more information, call the Ocean Safety Bureau at 241-6500 or 241-6506.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or email@example.com