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For second summer, COVID concerns force cancellation of Junior Lifeguards Program

Published: May. 18, 2021 at 4:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu’s annual Junior Lifeguard Program attracts a lot of youth to its summer sessions to learn lifeguarding skills.

For years, the North Shore Lifeguards Association has been in charge of it.

“We serve roughly from 1,500 to close to 2,000 kids a summer for free,” NSLA’s Bryan Phillips said.

But for the second straight summer, the program for youth ages 12 to 17 has been canceled. Once again, it’s fallen victim to COVID concerns.

“We aren’t being allowed to have surf competitions currently. We’re grouped into that same category with the marine events permits,” Phillips said.

He said even if the program ran this summer, enrollment would have to be scaled back significantly,

“We would have to limit class sizes. We would have to cut enrollment by almost 75%,” he said.

On a positive note, the pause gave NSLA time to work out a plan to return the program’s oversight to the city. It looks like it’s a go.

“The city is committed to taking this program back. I think having a year to plan and get into the groove for next June and July makes the most sense to me,” said Jim Ireland, director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department.

Phillips said that should eliminate the funding and staffing issues that have been constant challenges. It costs about $150,000 to $200,000 to operate the program for a summer.

“To have that commitment from the city that they want to run this in 2022, and have that commitment that it’s a priority, that’s a huge win for us, and it’s a huge win for junior guards,” Phillips said.

“In the post-COVID world, we’re really looking forward to getting this going again,” Ireland said.

When it is running, the Junior Lifeguard Program operates at four sites ― on the North Shore, at Ala Moana, and in Kailua and Makaha.

“We were running a program islandwide that was busting at the seams up until the pandemic hit,” Phillips said.

Barring more setbacks, it will be back next summer and better than ever.

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