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The Mexican Lifeguard Association and USLA-Club Tortuga Held the First Ocean Lifeguard Academy in Los Cabos!
By Victor Zavala
President, Lifeguard and Rescue Association of the State of Baja California.
Interim Chairman, Mexican Lifeguard Association.
Club Tortuga Representative in Baja California
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 Lifeguard Association.

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 more participants.

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 lifeguards.

Big Surf Rescue 10 May 2003, Sol Mar Beach, Cabo San Lucas
It started out to be just another morning in paradise for Robert Allen and the others in the Sol Mar sales area. That all changed abruptly when someone yelled, “The wave flipped them over”. Because Robert had seen the pangas in close to shore in the past and knew that there had been many close calls, be knew without directly seeing the accident, what had happened. He bolted from his chair and started running toward the beach and left a path of shoes, socks, pants and shirt on the sand before entering the water. Some other sales people followed and Robert got to the nearest victim quickly and handed him off to the others.

The breakers were not the usual shore break that vary between small to large. There were three sets of waves coming in and they were the large variety. Robert got out through the surf to the second victim who was barely afloat and proceeded to head toward shore with him in tow. Getting through each set of waves was becoming increasingly more difficult.
With the last set it took a couple of tries of literally setting the victim up to catch a wave and the people in the shallow water tried to grab him. When they missed him he was swept back out to Robert and the next time was successful. The MedCare ambulance showed up and took the second victim to the Social Security hospital and he was treated for a dislocated shoulder. The local Navy also arrived in one of their boats but by that time the victims were on shore.

The victims should be thankful that Robert was working that day because none of the others had the experience he had and also thankful that his parents pushed him at an early to learn to swim and then learn lifesaving techniques, CPR etc. He is also in very good shape.

The head of the sales department is in the process of acquiring lifesaving equipment for the Sol Mar and the other hotels will probably follow suit. Swim fins and buoys will make rescuing a lot easier.

The first day of training - 30 March, 2003

Taken 04 May 2003 This is the tower that is very near (100
feet +/-) where the training takes place.
05 May 2003 The start of another 500 meter swim.






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