Monday, August 24, 2015

The Lifeguards of Red Frog, by Kevin Taylor

We are really stoked to share some photos and commentary from Veteran LACo OL (Ret.), Kevin Taylor (also recently a retired Fire Captain), who is at present traveling like a true surf vagabond through some islands off the east coast of Panama!  Traveling cheap and living large, he is!  Pay attention if you want to emulate this adventure…

"The Water Taxi dock to Red Frog filled with taxis (e.g., boats). $5 each way to Bocas Town."

“Lifeguards of Red Frog”, by Kevin Taylor

Lifeguards of Red Frog Bocas del Toro (meaning "Mouth of the Bull") is a province of Panama comprising an archipelago off the Caribbean coast.  Isla Colón, the main island, is home to the capital, Bocas Town, a hub for dining, shopping and nightlife, with reggae music emanating from open-air bars, beaches with calm waters for swimming and learning to surf.  

Bocas Town has a small airport and is a stepping off point to the many surrounding islands. Red Frog Beach is the most popular beach in the islands of Bocas del Toro because of its location and beauty. One can surf gorgeous waves on Bastimentos Island, snorkel above the coral reef, lie on the white sand, take a night hike, or just stroll through the surf.  A select few establishments offer all the convenience needed for a perfect day at the beach.  This Panama Beach is unique because of the lush rainforest that fringes the sandy Caribbean beach. The beach is accessed by arriving from Bocas Town via 10 minute water taxi ride and then a 15 minute walk across from the calm water back of the island to the surf laden front of the island. You may spot a three-toed sloth as you walk across the island, a monkey, or a small red frog for which Red Beach derives its name.  Spotting exotic wildlife on Red Frog Beach and the other beaches on Bastimentos Island is almost guaranteed. Four of the world's eight sea turtle species nest on Red Frog Beach.   

For being among the most famous beaches in Panama, Red Frog Beach is only .75 miles wide. At each end of this Panama Beach there is a rock-peninsula outcropping.  About 100 to 300 people visit this Panama Beach everyday.  These guests are coming from the accommodations on Bastimentos island or day travelers taking water taxi from other Bocas del Toro hotels on the many other islands. The Caribbean beaches of Panama are considered by many to be superior to the Pacific beaches. The water is warmer, more blue, less tidal change, softer sand and the accompanying rainforest makes these beaches the best in Panama. Until recently, Red Frog beach was an unguarded beach.  

photo source: ed frog bungalow eco ocean website

Red Frog Beach

photo source: ed frog bungalow eco ocean website

With an average 2-3 foot surf break that can peak with 10 foot surf on large days, shifting sand bars and strong rip rides it was not unusual for a tourist to find themselves in trouble at Red Frog.  One man often came to the rescue of these swimmers in distress by volunteering his superior waterman skills in the turbulent surf.  Scott Balogh, a longtime surfer from the shores of California operates both Red Frog Bungalows Eco-Ocean Resort and Nachyo Mamma's taco stand on Red Frog beach. 

Scott rescued swimmers so often it began to rival his duties as proprietor of his two outstanding and thriving businesses.  "It began to become stressful going to the beach and worrying about someone drowning everyday" said Scott.  So he organized the three establishments on the beach to hire a privately funded lifeguard.  He then petitioned the Panama government for sanctioned trained lifeguards.  Panama requires pools to have trained guards.  His request was initially denied.  Then in January 2015 a Canadian man drowned when Scott was not there to help.  The government took notice and provided the trained guards for the beach. Scott and the other two establishments oversee and pay the guards.


Divier Castiillo and Christopher Gracia, both age 24, are two of the three lifeguards assigned to work Red Frog beach.  Each day they travel the 15 minutes by water taxi from Bocas Town on nearby Colon island. They each work eight hour days, five or six days per week.  There are no other relief guards.  Christopher and Divier use the uniform warning flag system in use in many jurisdictions, including the entire state of Florida.  Accompanied with interpretive signs to explain the meaning of the flags and information signs describing rip currents, this standardized system helps notify the public of conditions by reducing confusion of other flag colors and symbols used from place to place.  Green indicates low hazard, yellow indicates medium hazard and red indicates high hazard.  Double red indicates a beach closure. Both lifeguards received standardized training in a four month academy provided by the Panama National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC), an agency established to implement all policies and action plans aimed at public protection.  The training is primarily pool based but encompasses some beach training. Scott provides additional informal training, such as instructing the guards in preventive techniques.  

Scott uses real life scenarios of pointing out potential problems prior to them happening.  Sure enough, his informal training turned into a real life situation where a young swimmer fell off her bogey board and the father struggled in a rip current.  Both Christopher and Divier sprang into action and ensured the safety of both swimmers. The Red Frog lifeguard program began in February 2015.  That first month, Christopher made over 50 rescues personally.  He makes nearly 20 rescues each month on average.  Earlier that morning Christopher rescued a German tourist woman from a strong rip current.  Upon hearing of the various educational exchanges held around the world by the professionals of the Los Angeles County lifeguards, Scott was enthusiastic for any additional training his new program might receive.   The lifeguard program developed by Scott Balogh and the service Christopher Gracia and Divier Castillo provide is invaluable in keeping travelers safely returning home to their loved ones.  These three men are your true heroes.

Kevin Taylor

(Copyright Text & Photos Kevin Taylor 2015. Used here with permission.)




Below, Kevin Taylor, wearing his "Panama Red" shirt... Kevin was a LACo beach lifeguard for 25 years during summers both before and during his firefighting days.

*** Many Thanks to Kevin for sharing his photos and remarks with all of us!  ***


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

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