Whenever I tell anyone that I work as a lifeguard over the summer, everyone always responds with something along the lines of "wow that's awesome!" or "that seems like the best summer job!" And while yes, you do spend your days outside in the fresh air getting a tan, there's definitely a less glamorous side to being a lifeguard, and there are some things you just don't know until you've sat in the Guard Room yourself. Here are 12 things all lifeguards know to be true.
1. The tan lines are atrocious.
One of the perks of being a lifeguard seems to outsiders to be the amount of time we get to spend in the sun getting a tan. Where I work, as seems to be the case with most pools, female guards have to wear a full-piece Speedo racing-style suit. This results in insane criss-crossed tan lines and a giant circle on your back, as well as an extremely white stomach. These marks are extremely hard to get rid of, so it looks like they're here to stay for the entire summer. If you get to wear a two-piece while you work, I'm so jealous.
2. You wish that you could tell people that "lifeguard" ≠ "babysitter".
It's amazing how many parents bring their children to the pool and don't pay ANY attention to them because they assume that the lifeguards are there to keep them out of trouble. Yes, lifeguards are there in case something goes horribly wrong, but we are not your free babysitting service, and it's insulting to be treated as such. Please watch your own kids.
3. Game over if you forget sunglasses.
Forgetting sunglasses when you have to go to work is one of the worst things that can happen. The summer sun is already insanely strong, and then you add the glare off of the surface of the water, and you will literally be seeing spots for the next few days if your eyes aren't hidden behind dark lenses 24/7.
4. Your voice actually gets hoarse from yelling.
If I had a dollar for every time my voice got scratchy after a shift on stand with continuously misbehaving kids, I'd be rich. The number of times you have to yell "no running," "wait your turn to go off the diving board," "no wrestling," or enforce some other rule that people don't follow, your voice gets exhausted.
5. Wanting to cry when a small group of people walk into the pool on an overcast/rainy day.
Overcast or slightly rainy days are some of the best days to work IF no one shows up. You get to hang out with your fellow guards and get paid to essentially do nothing. Your boss will likely close the pool in an hour or so, and at least you got a few hours rather than the whole day being cancelled. But THEN a group of kids come in with the intent on swimming, and you know you're going to have to miserably sit on stand in the rain/cold watching them play Escape from Alcatraz.
6. The joy you feel when you get to call people out of the pool for lightning.
At the pool where I work, we have an alarm that blares when there's lightning within a 5 mile radius. There's nothing better than hearing that noise and seeing the flashing white light. Yes, people get mad when you have to call them out of the pool, but those 30 minutes or more of a break from the madness of swimmers are some of the best.
7. Giving a swim lesson to a 2 year old.
Many parents ask lifeguards to give their kids swim lessons, which is fine, but a decent amount of the time, I'll get a request from the parent of a two to four year old. Let's be honest, you're not paying me to teach your kid to swim, you're paying me to be a babysitter.
8. Those people that never seem to leave the pool.
There are those families that stay until the last minutes before closing and return as soon as the pool opens the next day. They essentially live at the pool, and you feel like you know everything about them because you spend so much time in their vicinity. Some of them are great, but most of them make you want to cry.
9. Yelling at people, only to have them continue doing whatever they were doing as soon as you turn around.
The number of times I've told a kid not to run, only to have them run-walk and then immediately resume running once they think I'm not looking at them is ridiculous. I can still see you, buddy. PSA: the point of the lifeguard chair is that we see everything even if we're not looking directly at you. Just assume we can see you.
10. Dehydration headaches.
Having migraines on stand because of the intense sunlight and dehydration from ALL the sweat is the absolute worst. It makes your shift feel like forever, and it does not make dealing with all those kids easier.
11. Fourth of July and Memorial Day.
All of the people that pack themselves into the pool on those days give me anxiety. We usually have to put another guard on the big pool to watch everyone, which means you're on stand for an even longer period of time. You come home from the day absolutely exhausted and in an irritable state, which should not be happening on national holidays, but it comes with the territory.
12. The horror of AFRs.
Poop in the pool, or as my boss calls them AFRs (accidental fecal releases), are every lifeguard's nightmare. Bringing out the bleach, giant rubber gloves, buckets, and brushes is never enjoyable, and everything reeks of chlorine for the rest of the day because they have to seriously chlorinate the pool to kill off all the germs.