Water Safety

Water Safety

WATER SAFETY, LIFEGUARDING, AND TEACHING WITH THE AMERICAN RED CROSS

Backstory

At 15 years old, arriving in Hawaii for the first time, I was captivated by the Pacific – and the ocean became my life-long teacher. The surfing lifestyle led me to health, nature, and freedom.

Surfing was what I loved to do, and over time I found myself increasingly "Doing what I love, and loving what I do."

At Waikiki with Lifeguards Hawaii State

My surfing lifestyle led me to train and become qualified as an ocean lifeguard/Water Safety Officer. Later I traveled the world as a surfer, and eventually settled down at a university on a tropical island (Phuket, Thailand), earned a PhD in surf site conservation, and became a professional environmental researcher.

Through my experiences as a water safety professional, I learned important first-responder skills, such as First Aid and CPR. Later, I became an American Red Cross instructor.

Practical Experience and Professional Service

The sport of surfing has inherent risks, and practical experience and an understanding of ocean safety go hand and hand. It is common for surfers seek advanced water safety or lifeguard training, especially if they are thinking of working at the beach. My case was no exception, and now I reflect on forty years of ocean experience in twenty-five countries, including five years' service as a Hawaii County Water Safety Officer, and seasonal service as a California State Park Lifeguard. Although lifeguarding was not my only career, it has been a continuous theme in personal and professional life.

In 1987, I was introduced to instructor programs with American Red Cross through a Hawaiian friend at the beach, and this was when I first became a teacher. I continued teaching these courses until 1997. Mainly I taught courses in Advanced Lifesaving, Lifeguarding, First-aid, and CPR.

Phuket Rip Currents Poster | Steven Martin | Prince of Songkla University

Surf experience highlights in my life include participating in amateur surf contests and as an official surf contest judge in Hawaii, North America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. These and other experiences culminated in the idea to create an international surfing school in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in 1998.

I have saved over 100 lives in ocean rescues, the majority of them being off duty, while surfing or teaching surfing.

Lifeguarding at Kahaluu and White Sands (Magic Sands) Beach Parks in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii | 1985-1991

The 1980s in Hawaii was a formative period in the development of public water safety services. Many popular beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, such as White Sands (Magic Sands) Beach in Kailua-Kona, did not have lifeguard stations or towers. The traditional Hawaiian name for the site is La'a Loa.

The photos shared here are from my Surfing Scrapbook.

Lifeguarding White Sands Beach (La'a Loa) | Kailua-Kona, Hawaii | 1989

Lifeguarding White Sands Beach (La'a Loa) | Kailua-Kona, Hawaii | 1990

White Sands Point (La'a Loa) | Kailua-Kona, Hawaii | 2000 | Click to "A Brief History of Surfing"

Kahaluu Beach Park | County of Hawaii

Kuemanu Heiau (surfing shrine) | Kahaluu Beach Park, Big Island of Hawaii | Click enlarge

Students learning to surf at the Kuemanu Heiau surfing shrine at Kahaluu Beach Park

Lifeguarding at Hapuna Beach State Park in South Kohala, Hawaii, with Lifeguards Hawaii State

Hapuna State Beach has a long history of drowning and near-drowning incidents. During the 1970s and 80s, while Hawaii County provided lifeguard services at County beach parks, State beach parks were left unguarded.

Hapuna State Beach was particularly dangerous due to the deep water and north-west exposure, making the beach wide open to large and powerful north-west ocean swells during the winter months.

In 1990, the State opened a contract for private lifeguarding organizations to provide water safety services at Hapuna for the first time. Honolulu-based Lifeguards Hawaii State, owned and operated by John Quincy Adams (aka, JQA), took charge of the lifeguard program for first three years.

Hawaii County Lifeguard tower at Hapuna Beach State Park

Hawaii County lifeguard tower at Hapuna Beach State Park

Following the precedent set in January 1992, when the City and County of Honolulu was elected to place lifeguards at the notoriously dangerous Keawaula Beach on Oahu, an agreement was soon reached on the Big Island between Hawaii County and the State of Hawaii, leading to County lifeguards being stationed at Hapuna State Beach.

I was fortunate enough to be active during this formative period in the Big Island's water safety programs, having worked for the County, as well as Lifeguards Hawaii State.

Winter 1992 | Lifeguarding at Hapuna Beach State Park | Lifeguards Hawaii State

The first lifeguard tower at Hapuna Beach State Park in South Kohala, Hawaii | Lifeguards Hawaii State

California State Park Lifeguarding in San Clemente, Orange Coast State District

Just prior to County guards being officially stationed at Hapuna, I was accepted to the California State Park Lifeguard Training Program at Huntington Beach. Luckily, I survived the rigorous training and testing period at Huntington and got hired as a California State Park Lifeguard in San Clemente, Orange Coast District – a great place to be a surfer-lifeguard!

San Clemente was home to the surf beaks known collectively as "Trestles" at San Onofre State Beach, and being from out of state, I was allowed to camp and use the facilities at Trestles Headquarters (THQ) overlooking the breaks during the summer of 1992.

The surf breaks known collectively as "Trestles" at San Onofre State Beach | Click to enlarge

Surfing and Ocean Safety in Phuket, Thailand

After moving to the resort island of Phuket, Thailand, in 2007, to study for my MBA in Hospitality and Tourism Management, I became interested in ocean safety at local beaches.

During my first week on the island, I made several surf-related rescues at unguarded beaches. That year, during the Southwest Monsoon (May to October), I rescued five tourists in the surf, and decided to conduct water safety research on the island. My study found that surfers were unintentionally acting as surrogate lifeguards at Phuket beaches, assisting tourists and the general public who got into trouble in the surf.

I wrote several articles for a local magazine on related subjects, created the Phuket Ocean Safety Guide, and in April of 2010, the research made the front page of the Phuket Gazette. I also discussed this issue in my Master's thesis, "Coastal resource assessment for surf tourism in Thailand," and on local radio.

Discussing surf and ocean safety on the air in Phuket, Thailand | Click photo to my Master's research

Phuket Ocean Safety Guide | Click to view

Coastal Currents in Phuket | Click to view

Surfer Lifesavers of Phuket | Click to view

Surf's Up, Drownings Down | Click to view

Water Safety and Lifeguarding Experience

1991-2017 Lifeguards Hawaii State

  • Water Safety Consultant

1998-2003 Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors (HLSI)

  • Surfing and Ocean Safety Instructor

1987-1997 American Red Cross, Hawaii Island Chapter

  • Instructor in Lifeguarding, Swimming, First Aid and CPR
  • Water Safety Instructor (WSI)

1991-1992 California State Park Lifeguard

  • State Lifeguard – California Department of Parks and Recreation

1985-1991 County of Hawaii

  • Water Safety Officer (WSO II)

1992-1993 Boy Scouts of America

  • Boy Scout Merit Badge Instructor in First Aid and CPR

1988-1990 Ocean Sports Waikoloa

  • First Aid and CPR Instructor

1987-1997 Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety Instructor

  • Swimming, Water Safety and Lifeguard Instructor
  • First Aid and CPR Instructor

1988-1992 Parker High School, Hawaii

  • Swimming Coach, Water Safety and Lifeguard Instructor
  • First Aid and CPR Instructor

Letters of Recommendation

Thank you for visiting my Water Safety and Lifeguarding Page.

I hope you enjoy the photos and the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to learn more about ocean safety, lifeguarding or surf tourism, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin