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A day in the life of Hawaii lifeguardsAlvin Koo

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    A day in the life of Hawaii lifeguardsAlvin Koo
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    What would be the perfect job if you liked meeting people, wanted to be outdoors, and took being in shape seriously? Perhaps, being a lifeguard.
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    Or, maybe, being a lifeguard on the TV series Baywatch Hawaii!
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    Whether you're looking at a guy sitting in a tower next to a fresh water pool surrounded by palm trees; or looking at someone who may have saved hundreds of lives over the years, scanning the ocean for danger; or trying to get an autograph from Stacy Kamano, Hawaii's newest star, a lifeguard featured on Baywatch, you've got to think that lifeguarding is cool.
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    To help you find out exactly how cool, we have tried to capture:
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    A day in the life of a Waikiki lifeguard.
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    Kekoa and Ka'ai Bruhn, lifeguards, Hilton Hawaiian Village.
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    "If you're thinking of a community pool, where the guard is sitting up in a tower with a whistle, his job is more like a peacekeeper. But if your guest is paying $300 a night to stay in your hotel and swim in your pool, you cannot just be a cop," says Kekoa Bruhn, manager of Waikiki Beach Activities, which handles lifeguard and beach services for the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
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    The Hilton guards look the most like the lifeguard stereotype -- young, well-built, and good- looking. And the pool may look glamorous, but exactly how romantic is it sitting on a high chair looking down at a sea of bikinis?
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    "You have to have a lot of tact, a lot of people skills," says Ka'ai, brother of Kekoa and a lifeguard. The two brothers remember different stories.
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    One was of a man who had recently gotten out of a hospital. He was adamant in not wanting to wear the wristband that lifeguards offer guests to help identify them to keep the pool for guests only.
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    Another was of a lawyer who threatened to sue because the guards had removed his belongings from his pool chair after he left it for over an hour.
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    It's not uncommon for parents to completely ignore their children in the pool, and the guard must be the one to tactfully remind them that it's a big pool with a lot of kids and that good parents watch their kids.
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    "You have to keep your cool," Ka'ai says.
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    The Hilton lifeguard job is half about safety, half about service, and half just keeping the guest happy.
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    The guards keep walkways clear, stop running on the deck, stop things being thrown in the pool, enforce the one-hour no chair reservations rule, fetch things, answer questions and hand out towels. Four guards work the pool and three work the beach-towel stand.
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    All are required to have Red Cross life guard certification and know basic first aid and CPR.
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    "When I first started, I had no idea what this was all about. I thought I would just sit on the chair and make sure nobody drowns, but it's really lifeguard/service."
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    Despite the emphasis on service, the guards have their share of glamour and physical difficulty.
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    "First of all, the hotel has a strict rule against fraternizing. We're not allowed to date a guest, not allowed to go up to their room, not allowed even to stay on the property after work," says Ka'ai.
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    "In ten years, I haven't met one girl where a new romance blossomed from this job. Not at all," says Kekoa.
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    But the brothers have met celebrities and even made friends with a few of them. They met football star Jim Kelly off property and he calls them for dinner when he's in town.
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    "And we get to talk to people from all over the world."
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    On the physical side, most guards tend to be watermen and paddlers, the brothers say.
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    Kekoa rowed the number one stroke spot on the record setting Lanikai team, which won the recent Molokai Hoe. The crews are picked by the coaches for their various skills and attributes to match the conditions on race day, rough, smooth, big guys, small guys, a lot of variables.
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    "It's an honor and privilege," Kekoa says. "A lot of guys paddle for thirty years and never get picked to be on a winning crew."
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    Both brothers paddle. Ka'ai was on the number two Lanikai team which placed 15th.
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    Stacy Kamano, Baywatch Hawaii.

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    Baywatch has a set on the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with Diamond Head in the background. But it concentrates on drama and action, the kind usually found in the big winter waves of the North Shore, and beautiful people.
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    "I really do feel like a lifeguard out there," says Stacy Kamano, one of Hawaii's prettiest, who grew up in the water in Waimanalo surfing, body boarding and swimming. Her dad is a fireman and her sister is a city lifeguard. She plays Kekoa in Baywatch.
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    "Sometimes, I'm on a jet ski and the waves are really coming, and it can get dangerous. I think the show does a good job of showing the dangers of being a lifeguard."
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    Moreover, Kamano says, the actors are trained to make the scenes more realistic. The first year, the actors went through a "boot camp," which was very strenuous.
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    "We kicked some butt out there. It was very close to the real thing," Kamano said.
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    The training by city lifeguard Brian Keaulana featured activities like operating a jet ski, kayaking, paddling, CPR, and rescuing a person in the water.
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    "The most realistic was running rocks. It's where a person holds on to a rock to keep them down and maybe five or six people are hanging on to you like a train, and you run under water.
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    Stacy is beauty and brawn. "I could do it maybe ten or twenty feet, depending on how deep it is. I can free dive about twenty feet."
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    The skill that the Baywatchers never had to hone was vigilance, Kamano says.
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    "People don't realize that lifeguards can really judge someone's character, their ability in the water, by being observant. I give them credit to go out there in huge surf to rescue someone. They need to know a lot and be strong swimmers."
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    Kamano recently moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the movie industry with hopes of landing a role in feature films. She was studying real estate when she was discovered for the Baywatch role and has aspirations to continue acting.
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    Baywatch is entering its third year. Its
    producer, Greg Bonann is an ex-lifeguard and recently passed the Honolulu lifeguard qualification swim and paddling test.
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    Paul Merino, city lifeguard, Waikiki.
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    The lifeguard stand in front of the Moana Surfrider is stand 2A, the prime stand in Hawaii, king of the road, the center of action, the senior stand. The guards there are the best. They are graded on everything from swimming skills to attendance, from first aid to vigilance.
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    Paul Merino arrived 24 years ago to join his brother who was a beach boy. He loved it, but he was told, "It's a great lifestyle but no life, no security, no benefits." His mentor was Steamboat and the other oldtimers.
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    They told Merino you have what it takes. You care, you can get along with people. Be a lifeguard.
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    So he did. And he has never left Waikiki. Today, as Captain, he is in charge of 60 guards who cover Hawaii Kai to Pearl Harbor. Each day there are 22 guards on duty, mostly in Waikiki and Ala Moana. Two guards staff a Yamaha Wave Runner covering everything outside the primary busy areas.
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    The modern lifeguard, he says, should not be involved in rescue work, but in preventative action. In 24 years, Merino says, he has not seen one case of a true drowning in Waikiki.
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    Perhaps, a half dozen people a year die in Waikiki of heart attacks while in the water. They also get into trouble from over-drinking, over-eating, and over-extending themselves in a playground environment.
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    "Guards should know how to recognize danger zones and how to interact with beachgoers before they get into trouble," Merino says.
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    "For instance, a kid rents a boogie board. He's from Iowa, maybe pale-skinned, no fins. The lifeguard sees that. He can paddle out and talk to him. 'What's your name? Where are you from? Hey, Billy have you ever been in the ocean before?' Like that and just warn Billy and guide him back to safer waters."
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    Guards aren't involved in enforcement of rules, Merino says. That's for the police to do, except in some cases.
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    "A lot of times we see thieves on the beach, and we just walk over and stand there and look the person over real good, and they get the message and leave. We can't tell people you can't. Our duty is to warn. There are laws against sand sliding with hard boards, against throwing aerial discs, footballs, baseballs. It could hurt someone. There's no drinking on the beach. No peddling, no soliciting time-shares."
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    On an average day, a guard may have to hit the water 30 times in preventative actions, paddling out to talk to people.
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    Occasionally, the guards get into law enforcement. They've been asked to help with bank robbers who run down the beach, take off their clothes and jump in the water, trying to melt into the crowd.
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    "We've been asked to take police out to suspects on the wave runner. We've swum out to suspects and told them that the nice man in the blue uniform on the beach wants to talk to them.
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    "We answer questions. Yes, that's called Diamond Head. I screen the guards for attitude. Never disdain, no matter how obvious the question. Aloha is a big part of the job. We teach Hawaiian culture by stationing guards in Waianae for a time."
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    Physical conditioning is a big part of being a lifeguard. The job is considered a plum by many, and the guards take care of their health in order to preserve their jobs. "They eat right, they get their sleep, they exercise. The people who are lifeguards are great watermen."
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    They get tested every year. If they fail, they have two weeks to make it up. If they can't, they get transferred to another city job.
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    The test includes a complete physical with special emphasis on hearing, sight, heart, back, and blood pressure. The water test includes a 1,000-meter run combined with a 1,000-meter swim in under 25 minutes, a 400-meter paddle in four minutes, and a combination 100-meter run, 100-meter swim and 100-meter run in three minutes.
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    And there is glamour.
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    Merino taught Joe Montana how to surf. He rescued Bruce Johnson of the Beachboys. They still correspond and keep in touch. And, he's been on Baywatch.
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    "The first year a lot of the lifeguards didn't watch the show because it wasn't true to what Hawaii lifeguards do. But the second year, a bunch of us got involved in helping the writers with true stories."
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    And the women?
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    Merino is married and won't offer much.
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    "It's nothing like the old days," he finally admits.
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    And glory? Is that just for the daredevils on the North Shore?
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    "Waikiki's guards have excellent water skills. But the North Shore guards have the large surf. We send North Shore guards to Waikiki to polish their people and emergency first-aid skills.
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    Tom Allen, lifeguard in charge of Wave Runners, Waikiki.
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    Tom Allen admits Waikiki has few big surf "glory" days. But, he says, North Shore wave runners only put to sea when they have a call in big surf. Whereas, Waikiki guards are in the water nearly constantly.
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    It would not be unusual for Allen to spend six hours on the water on the wave runner, shuttling surfers and canoe paddlers when the surf is up in summer.
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    "We've helped scuba divers in distress, people who have gotten sick on the Atlantis submarine, I've picked up a dog in the surf, I've had to pick up fisherman from the cliffs off Hanauma, I've gone to Ewa to assist a diver. Plus, we back each other up from the south shore to the north shore. And I get to ride the big waves on my days off."
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    On windy days, people don't realize how fast they can drift. Wave-runner guards spend a lot of time in preventative action, talking to everyone from wind surfers to people on floating mattresses.
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    Allen has been a guard for nine years. He thinks some of the Baywatch stories are good but that they're generally over glamorized. The equipment is the same, he says.
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    The city has two wave runners, one with 600 ccs and a top speed of about 30 miles per hour, the other with 1200 ccs and a top speed of 50 miles per hour.
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    His training included a month long course in all kinds of wave conditions from big to small.
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    "Basically, we're taught not to be in dangerous positions. We always know an exit before we enter. Always know a safe zone before you enter. If the situation is too dangerous for us, we don't enter but we have never lost someone because of that."
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    In addition, Allen admits something that looks dangerous may not be as dangerous as it looks. Like picking up a fisherman from below the Hanauma cliffs, for instance.
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    "The waves are wishy-washy. What water goes up comes back down. If you stay relaxed, it's not that bad. Hopefully, the victim has enough sense to swim away from the cliffs, and it's easy. Otherwise, we have two men. We drop one off to pull the victim away from the cliffs."
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    And glamour, beautiful women, celebrities? He's met a few celebrities, but only casually. And at least one beautiful woman.
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    Allen met his wife taking shelter from the rain at the lifeguard stand in front of the Kaimana Beach Hotel.
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    "We started talking. She was an avid swimmer and down there all the time." The rest is history.
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