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Jacksonville Beach Lifeguards Make Changes To Graduation Traditions

Beatrice Sanchez

Jacksonville Beach lifeguards are making changes to graduation traditions this year after increased scrutiny.

Veteran lifeguards have been training new recruits for almost three months.

“Every Sunday, we’ll meet at the pool in the morning. We’ll do about a three-hour pool training session where we work on their stamina together,” said Ryan Karish, head instructor.

The Sunday routine also includes classroom work and practicing lifesaving techniques in the deep end of the pool.

Karish said it’s the same intensive training he went through eight years ago. But as society changes, the organization is trying to change, as well.

“Things that might have been considered acceptable back in the 30s or 40s, those things are not seen in the same light in today’s society,” Karish said. “So we are evolving and getting rid of anything that isn’t appropriate.”

As part of the training process, prospective lifeguards are also asked to participate in a series of rituals, including eating unappetizing pies and having pillow fights over a makeshift moat filled with water.

In a YouTube video, recruits can be seen running around the beach wearing a white sheet, a wooden name tag, and a dead fish around their necks. They then bang on a metal pot to announce their upcoming graduation. After that, one recruit pretends to shoot the others, who play dead on the ground.

American Red Cross Lifesaving Corps Captain Bill Horn said the rituals were around when he joined 30 years ago.

“We won’t ask them to do things that we think is bad for them or we’re not willing to do ourselves,” he said.

Horn took over the Corps in October, and has already started making changes. Traditions he’s cut include the activities seen in the video.

“Basically what we did was we looked at our process, and we said if we’re not doing something that makes better lifeguards, we’re just not gonna do it,” Horn said.

He says beachgoers often approach him with questions during training. “We have a pie-eating contest that some people say ‘Oh what’s in there?’, and there’s nothing in there that’s not edible," he said. "They’re just not the tastiest things.”

Anchovies, molasses, and cheese are among the pie fillings. He said it’s a helpful exercise because lifeguards sometimes have to deal with vomit when saving a drowning person.

“And when you’re by yourself or if you have to put a bag mask or a mouth to mask, you may come into contact with vomit,” Horn said. “You may even have to stick your face near something you don’t want to to save somebody’s life."

He added he is even willing to eat an anchovy or molasses pie alongside the new lifeguards this year in solidarity.

To make the cut, Jax Beach lifeguards need to be able to run a mile in less than 8 minutes and swim 500-meters in less than 10 minutes. About a-quarter of the hopefuls have made it since orientation in January.

After training, lifeguards are required to volunteer every Sunday and holiday to be eligible for a paid position during the week.

Beatrice Sanchez is a senior at the University of North Florida. She will graduate this year with a bachelor's degree in communication with a concentration on media production. Originally from Manila, Philippines, she moved to Jacksonville four years ago to finish school. She spends most of her time at school or work, and if she ever does get free time, she enjoys watching re-runs of "Grey's Anatomy" or taking pictures of surfers out at the beach.