Lifeguards From Mexico Learn Skills in California
Jaimee Lynn Fletcher - Orange County Register
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June 22, 2012

Mexican lifeguards Juan Manuel Ramos, Gabriel Gomez, Juan Hector Martinez Herrera, and Felix Rodriguez, listen to the awards ceremony marking the completion of the California State Lifeguard training program in Huntington Beach. (Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register)

HUNTINGTON BEACH – The California State Lifeguards are going beyond borders to teach life-saving skills.

Four lifeguards from Mexico were among the class of trainees who graduated from the California State Lifeguard program in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.

The foreign lifeguards drove 1,000 miles in a small jeep, waited six hours at the Mexican border and slept in a beachside trailer to gain an experience they can take home to Cerritos Beach in Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, which is about 50 miles north of Cabo San Lucas.

"We're here to learn, to experience a different culture and get better in our skills," said Juan Manuel Ramos, 25.

Eventually, the Mexican lifeguards say they hope to spread the knowledge they gained this week with others who watch the beaches back home.

"We want to someday start a program at Cerritos," Gabriel Gomez, 31, said.

The international guests and lifeguards from Huntington Beach, San Diego, Half Moon Bay and Fresno worked for eight days to be able to wear the red shorts and navy shirt and yell, "I am a state beach lifeguard," as is tradition for graduates of the program.

Huntington Beach is considered a prime location for training because lifeguards can learn first-hand how to handle difficult situations instead of simply imagining what it would be like to navigate through a rip current or handle heavy surf.

"More often than not, we have some very challenging ocean conditions," said Eric Dymmel, training coordinator. "We draw from all throughout the state."

Forty-five students started the program, but the physical demands that come with being a lifeguard often mean several students don't finish the training. Forty lifeguards graduated from the program.

The trainees take intense CPR classes; they learn how to make a rescue on the rocks and how to navigate a boat rescue. Pulling a struggling swimmer from the water and learning how to move in rough waters is also on the list of skills learned.

And they run. A lot.

"It was all difficult," Juan Hector Martinez Herrera, 42, said through a translator. "The rock rescue was hard. You have to be like a sea star on the rocks. That's very important."

Herrera and Felix Rodriguez, 25, work for an association watching the water at Cerritos Beach in Mexico. Ramos and Gomez volunteer at the same beach but hope the certification from the California State Lifeguards will help them get paid to do what they love.

"Maybe they will see this and I will get a job," Gomez said.

The four are not the first international trainees to come to Huntington Beach over the years.

Lifeguards have come from France, Chile, Spain and England, among other countries.

Getting the Mexican lifeguards here was difficult and took months of approvals, paperwork and other requirements in California and Mexico, lifeguard officials said.

The men held fundraisers, collected donations and used some of their own money to pay for the trip.

Last year, Herrera and Rodriguez applied for a visa to come to the training but it was denied just before the training started, said Lifeguard Supervisor Mike Silvestri. This year Silvestri said he started about four months early to ensure the Mexican lifeguards would get clearance.

."They really had a good time and they have such a great attitude," he said.

In addition to training international lifeguards on local beaches, some Huntington Beach state lifeguards have been expanding their influence by visiting other countries to teach lifeguarding skills.

The International Surf Lifesaving Association, started in 2008 by four Huntington Beach lifeguards, has traveled to Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, among other countries.

International Relations Manager and Huntington Beach State Lifeguard William Koon said many lifeguards in Wednesday's graduating class are already looking forward to visiting the Mexican lifeguards at their home beach and spreading the knowledge.

"This has been really special for me personally; being able to be here and share this with the people I love," he said.

Contact the writer: jfletcher@ocregister.com

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