Monday, May 2, 2011

The History of Junior Lifeguarding, by Bob Burnside

"County Recurrent" is pleased to bring to our readership a new 8-part article by LACo Chief Lifeguard, Bob Burnside (Ret.), which we will be presenting 2 parts at a time.

This article is entitled:

The Origin and History of the Junior Lifeguard Programs Nationally and Internationally

"Recently, the Southwest Region California Surf Lifesaving Association of the United States Lifesaving Association approved an award, for the “Outstanding Junior Lifeguard” in California. It will be presented to that individual who has met the highest standards of the J.G. programs, as established by the CSLSA. The award will be annually presented to the Chapter from the CSLSA. and the individual honoree.

As I look back over the many years of water safety, the questions of… Where, Who and Why did this magnificent program arise? I recall my Chief “Rusty” Williams of the Los Angeles County Lifeguards, while touring Australia in 1956, as the U.S.A. representative to the Olympic Surf Carnival at Torquay Beach, Melbourne, Victoria, discussing with his Australian counterpart, Ken Watson, the Junior Lifeguard Program and its success in the U.S.A. After the International Championships, the subject was again discussed in detail with the Australian Association’s President, the Honorable Judge Adrian Curlews. Years later, Australia initiated their “Nipper” program, which will be addressed later in this article.

But who really had the “Idea” of such a great program? It has taken me a little while to trace the time frames and information from our national level, …and a lot of time gathering facts from the international brotherhood of lifesavers. As you can imagine, a lot of groups might wish to claim title to the concept and earliest startup. Additionally, little research has been done on this and many just assume, due to institutional pride and knowledge, that they were first. So just what are the facts from history that can be verified, at least at the moment?

So let's start down this path of the History of the "junior Lifeguards" origin.

In the USA alone, it is estimated that approximately 35,000 junior lifeguards are enrolled in beach programs nationally, each year. It has become so popular, that many lifeguard agencies have had to go to two separate sessions each summer to accommodate the demand. For the following countries it is estimated annually and growing the following figures:
In Australia………25,000 Nippers
In Canada….. 3000 Juniors
In Mexico……..300 Jr. Salvavidas
In New Zealand…15,000 Nippers
In Ceylon……900 juniors
In Great Britain….10,000 Junior/Nippers
In South Africa…..20,000 Juniors


The earliest document evidence of the start of the Junior Lifeguard program came out of Chicago, Illinois’s, U.S.A.

The United States of America
Where and when did it all begin?
Part 1


In the 1910s, Tom Daley’s City Lifeguard Service was operating on a shoestring budget, even as Chicago’s beaches and recreational swimming in general, became more popular. Soon there were not enough lifeguards to cover the activity. World War 1 and the great influenza epidemic, made the numbers crunch even more serious. Leaving the beaches uncovered or understaffed would lead to more accidents and deaths,..as the City of Chicago just didn’t have the funds to hire more lifeguards, nor train potential recruits.

In 1919, Daly came up with the solution to the problem: …Let’s establish a “Junior Lifeguard” corps to help patrol the beaches. …The first junior lifeguards were a loosely organized group of boys who would help watch a certain area of beach, both before and during the busy hours. They would alert the few lifeguards on duty when they spotted any problems. As a reward, for the service, the junior lifeguards where given trunks and T-shirts and had the opportunity to use all the lifeguard equipment for extra training. As the program grew, Superintendent Daly, organized junior lifeguard programs throughout Chicago’s beaches and pools, with moderate success.

In 1926, a senior year lifeguard named “Sam” Leone had 40 junior lifeguards at his Rogers Park Beach area, which was the busiest stretch of beach in Chicago. Sam realized that these youngsters needed more structure than just standing around and alerting the full time lifeguards...they needed a “program;” One that would train them and give them the opportunity for future employment. Thus, “Sam’s Boys” were born… and flourished under his vision for many decades, and eventually expanded to all of the beaches in Chicago. Early stories of his youngsters rescuing stranded vessels as they practiced rowing have become folklore. The following photo of “Sam” and his boys in a long boat was taken in the early 1920"s as seen below:


Much of the foregoing history has been obtained from the book “ Sam’s Boys,”, written and published, by Chris Serb, retired Chicago Lifeguard, about the history of Chicago’s lifesaving and the legendary lifeguard Sam Leone. Within this great book, the many stories of the early junior lifeguards of Chicago are documented with factual accounts and photographs of the earliest junior lifeguard program in the world. It is a very informative and fascinating book that should be of interest to all lifesavers.

Part 2
The United States of America
West Coast Origin
Where and when did it all begin?


In 1927 the Los Angeles City Beach Lifeguards established the first Junior Lifeguard program in California. The group was organized and trained by lifeguard, Bob Foster. Members of that first group included Ed Perry who later became a long time rescue boat skipper, and whose son also became a lifeguard. Another member was Lawrence McNulty, top left in the photo, whose son and grandson became lifeguards. The group trained at the original LA City Lifeguard Hqts. at Brooks Ave Beach, in Venice, within the city of Los Angeles coastal areas.

Attached is a photo of the first LA City Junior lifeguards, photo 1927, with Ed Perry far right.


The L.A. City’s Chief Lifeguard, Myron Cox, loved working with young people. Through his efforts, and perseverance, the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Dept. established the project as an annual youth program for the children of Los Angeles.

The 1st Junior Lifeguards on the West coast

1927, L.A. City Headquarters, Venice, California

In the South Bay Area, of Los Angeles County, the L.A County Lifeguards had begun staffing their Headquarters in Hermosa Beach as a year around 24/7 operation. The wartime needs for coastal observation and emergency response to the residence of the south Bay area now became the responsibility of the lifeguards. Lifeguard Jim Neves, having been at one time, also a professional wrestler with Chief Myron Cox, became familiar with the City’s junior lifeguard program.

Each morning Jim would go off duty a 7 a.m., as the day crew came on duty. He had noticed a group of the young locals kids playing early on the beach. He approached L.A. County’s Chief Williams with the idea of putting together an exercise and water skill program for the kids, similar to that which L.A. City Lifeguards had established. The Chief gave the go ahead, …and thus the second recorded beach junior lifeguard program on the West Coast had started at Hermosa Beach Pier…and later to be followed by other California agencies.

Today…. almost all California Beach Communities have a Junior Lifeguard Program deep in tradition. There is a California Regional Junior Lifeguard Competition hosted by the CSLSA every July where approximately 3,000 elite Junior Lifeguard competitors swim, run, flag and paddle for honors. Junior Lifeguard programs are represented in every Region of the USLA. Every summer in the first week of August there is a National Junior Lifeguard Competition hosted by the USLA where approximately 1,000 Junior Lifeguards compete for the national title.

The East Coast Origin of J.G. Programs, By John Daly


Long Beach, New York is a barrier beach off of Long Island, approximately 10 miles in length and 1/2 mile at its widest point. It is connected to the main part of Long Island by 3 bridges. The community is diversified and consists of about 40,000 residents full time. It is accessible by train from NYC, which is 45 minutes away.

In 1978 we toured the west coast beaches, after the USLA Nationals for the first time and viewed the Jr Lifeguard programs at Huntington and Newport Beaches. In 1983 we lived in Australia and observed their nipper program. It took a while as our beach structure was getting more professional and we realized we needed a Junior Lifeguard program to help continue a high quality of staffing of professional lifeguards in our town. Each time we were on the west coast for a competition we visited the Jr Lifeguard programs. We decided to start a program for the summer of 1988. We had a banner made by an art teacher from our school and invited several lifeguards, including Joe Hoffman,and his brother Ed ,my brother John Daly and my wife, Rosemary, All volunteers to help run the program. We had 12 boys between the ages of 10 and 12. Mostly the sons of friends who were lifeguards. We had one BZ surfboard donated by another lifeguard and we were in business.

The program grew the next year to 25 boys and girls and we added more volunteer instructors. We met on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10-12 . The program has increased in popularity in town as we are the only organization that actually teaches young boys and girls water safety and how to swim in the ocean along with lifeguarding skills. Today we have increased the program with almost 300 boys and girls and 25 instructors. Our core of lifeguards have come from this introductory program. We still only met two days a week, and have incorporated our knowledge from the beaches that we have visited. Since that time beaches in New Jersey and other parts of Long Island have started programs.

Tom Daly, USLA/Mid.Atlantic Region

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*** Stayed tuned as we continue to publish this remarkable historical record of the beginnings of the Junior Lifeguarding program written by Bob Burnside. Many Thanks to Bob for sharing this article with all of us!


Until next time.....


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2 comments:

Banyardi said...

I was a L.A. County Jr. Lifeguard in the early '70's and then became a Recurrent Ocean Lifeguard from '75 to '86. This is a great article, but I see no mention of George Freeth. He trained many youngsters in water lore in both Santa Monica and Redondo Beach as far back as the early 1910's. Art Verge (Recurrent since '74) has more information on George Freeth. Cheers!

Michael Bowen said...

I was JG at Venice Breakwater in the summer of 1975. I walked up to the station the other day to talk to the current guards and reminisce. I couldn't remember the name of my instructors, but now searching around the webz I recognize the name of Bob Burnside. Still remember the Taplans down in Redondo too.