Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, September 3, 1999

Lifeguards in Hawaii
reach prime time

IT had been so long since I had been out to Haleiwa that I accidentally exited the freeway and drove past Schofield Barracks and approached the North Shore "the old way," through the pineapple field back roads.

It was appropriate, though, because it reminded me of all the times my friends and I made the same trip in the pre-freeway days of high school. You can never forget the thrill of coming over the last pineapple-covered hill and having the majesty of the North Shore spread out before you.

We immediately focused on the shoreline, checking out the amount of white water along the beach. If the white water looked huge from five miles out of Haleiwa, it only got bigger as you got closer. Under those circumstances, we would end up at Waimea Bay or Sunset Beach to watch the big boys catch the big waves. (Going out in huge waves was against my religion. I'm a Devout Coward.)

On those big days, we'd often see the lifeguards saving people from their own stupidity. But back then, lifeguards really weren't considered professionals, except by the people they saved.

Being a lifeguard was considered a cushy job, where beach boys just sat in towers and ogled the chicks. It was like the lifeguards had some kind of scam going and I think people in the other public safety departments were jealous. If the lifeguards had asked for, say, a four-wheel drive vehicle to patrol the beach or a jet ski to help in rescues, authorities would have laughed them out of the office. Toys? You think we're gonna give you toys to play with, too?

AS I came over the last pineapple hill this week, I could see the North Shore was flat. No big surprise, this being summer. I wanted to see the new "Baywatch Hawaii" lifeguard center in Haleiwa.

I knew that "Baywatch" producer Greg Bonann had promised to build up the existing lifeguard center, but I didn't expect to find an enormous two-story chalet. In a word, it is awesome and it shows just how far lifeguarding has come since the days when lifeguards were issued swim trunks, a blanket and a first aid kit. They had to buy their own swim fins.

Today, lifeguards have been given the "toys" they need to save lives: state of the art communication, four-wheel drive vehicles, jet skis and a jet boat. Of course, for the most part, they still have to depend on their most important weapon, their ability to keep people from doing something stupid before they do it.

Being a lifeguard on the North Shore is a mix of fact and fantasy. And the new "Baywatch" lifeguard training center is a symbol of that. The second floor of the structure will be used for the television show while the bottom will be used by the lifeguards. While the real lifeguards don't have the snazzy new four-wheel drive rovers "Baywatch" has, they do have their own fleet of vehicles.

And just in case real life and the world of television isn't confusing enough, Gov. Ben Cayetano showed up at the center that afternoon to shoot a scene where he will play himself inspecting the new lifeguard training center.

Compared to the cops and firefighters, when it comes to squeezing money out of the government for equipment, lifeguards are still the forgotten step children of public safety.

But Hawaii lifeguards are hoping that the visibility of "Baywatch Hawaii" will help them get the "toys" essential for them to do their job. Or at least let them play with theirs.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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