In Mexico, we just
had a historic experience that I would like to share
with all of you.
From April 30th to May 6th, 2003, The
First Lifeguard Academy of the Mexican Lifeguard Association
was held in Cabo San Lucas, South Baja California, Mexico.
At the beginning, various Club Tortuga members made
plans to participate as instructors of the academy,
but they had to cancel their trip for various personal
reasons. Drs. Francis J. Smith and Victor Zavala flew
to Los Cabos to work with Lic. Bethoven Castrejon, Cabo
San Lucas Civil Protection Coordinator and capacitate
for 7 days 22 professionals on basic water rescue techniques.
The candidates came from different organizations: Navy,
Fire Department, some local hotels and private ambulance
services. Francis is a USLA and Club Tortuga member,
as well as researcher of the University of California
at Berkeley where he studies rip currents. Victor is
the instructor of the Lifesaving Course at the Marine
Sciences Faculty of the Autonomous University of Baja
California since 1988, President of the Lifeguard and
Rescue Association of the State of Baja California,
Ensenada Delegation, Representative of Club Tortuga
for Baja California and Interim Chairman of the Mexican
The idea of this academy was born due
to John Hughes, an architect and former Long Beach,
California, seasonal lifeguard who has lived and worked
in the Cabo San Lucas area since June of 1989. John
read an article in a December 2002 edition of a local
paper which prompted him to go to the beach in early
January of 2003 and see what was going on. There he
met with Bob Dunker and his wife, Janet Gillespie. Dunker
is a yearly lifeguard for the State of California and
works in Santa Cruz, CA. He and Janet spend part of
each year in Pescadero, which is north of Cabo San Lucas.
Dunker had preciously organized a training program with
Commander Juan Carbajal of the local fire department
and was conducting lifesaving classes for the local
firefighters. John immediately became involved and continues
to this date (at this printing, they have had 107 classes).
At the time of his involvement, John was compelled to
contact his friend Fred Smpson and tell him what was
going on in CSL. Fred is co-owner of Viper Fins and
knows the work of Bob Burnside and the Club Tortuga
to help lifeguards in Mexico and Latin America.
Bob Dunker and John started from zero
with most of the firefighters, but their improvement
motivated him to continue the training. A few weeks
later, San José del Cabo firefighters joined
the group. The two groups met regularly, two or three
times a week, and John kept Bob Burnside aware of their
progress. Hughes' and Dunker's job was invaluable, but
the language barrier was a problem at times.
Bob Burnside contacted Victor Zavala, informed him
about the progress in Los Cabos and asked him to contact
Commander Carbajal. This way the language barrier was
broken and the idea for the academy was tested. Victor
would be the main instructor and other club members
would support him with their lifeguarding and politics
experience, because they had to maximize the trip trying
to cover all the aspects. Commander Carbajal named Lic.
Bethoven Castrejón, Civil Protection Coordinator,
as the man in charge of the academy, because he had
to fly to the State of Washington in order to drive
a fire engine down to Cabo San Lucas.
The big day was there, and Francis and Victor were
picked at the airport by John, who immediately took
them to take a look at some of the beaches and, then,
on to Cabo Mil radio station to give a last-minute promotion
to the academy. After the interview, John took them
to the house that the Throop family gladly lent them
for this occasion. A gorgeous, 3-bedroom, residence
at El Pedregal -the best area in Cabo San Lucas. Once
installed, they went to El Medano Beach and, along with
the Cabo San Lucas Delegate, started the academy with
the swimming test (500 meters in less than 15 minutes).
21 of the 22 contenders showed up and only one was not
able to cover the time frame. The person who was not
able to attend to the swimming test was a 12-year-old
boy whose parents did not allow him to skip school.
The kid and the guy who did not swim very fast were
still given the opportunity to go through the academy.
All the participants made their best
effort and concentrated on each one of the physical
tests, skills practice and lectures. Most of them improved
their swimming times at the end of the 6 days of training
and the spirit of fellowship reigned among them all.
One detail that we remember from the swimming test on
that very first day, is that one of the guys assisted
one of his fallen rivals, and instead of crossing the
line first, they crossed it together. That's what lifesaving
is all about - Team Work. Another anecdote occured during
the rescue practice on a surf beach with rip currents.
For most of the guys, this was the first time on a beach
with those characteristics - very impressive, none of
them backed off! They left their fear behind and realized
that it is just a matter of knowing when to get in,
or out, of the water. Of course, some of them were banged
by waves, which alone is enough reason for a good nightmare.
Tuesday, May 6th, at a local hotel,
the first MLA Ocean and Junior Lifeguard certificates
were handed out. 21 of the 22 participants received
their Cabo Academy Completion Certificate. After this
first experience in Cabo, the authorities are organizing
to bring the guards to work the beaches, keep on training
and held a second academy somewhere in October with
The idea is to hold this same academy
throughout the entire country, as a way to create the
minimum standards of training and knowledge required
for the Mexican lifeguards. In the near future, each
city will select their candidates for Instructors. The
selected candidates will travel to a appointed city
and will receive the Instructor's Course, andthose who
pass the course will be certified to train new lifeguards.
There is a lot to do, but experiences
like Cabo feed our spirit and motivate us to keep working
until all the beaches of our country are safe for all
their visitors, with well-equipped and paid professional