SANTA BARBARA, Calif .– The Santa Barbara Junior Lifeguards program returned to East Beach this week, welcoming children for the second time during the pandemic.
While instructors and students still wear masks on the sand, the feeling is much more upbeat than a year ago, even with fewer children participating this year.
Tony Sholl, the city’s water sports supervisor, says about 900 children are participating in the program this summer, still three times more than in pre-pandemic years, but down from about 1,200 students the last year.
Sholl says the return of more sports and activities this summer means junior lifeguards are no longer one of the only options in town.
“I’m glad, it means we’re going back to normal times,” he said. “We’re still popular, which is really nice to see, and that takes some of the pressure off [the staff], like last year, we were one of the few programs that worked. ”
Many students who signed up for the first time last year are excited to resume training and learn how to stay safe and smart in the ocean. They also have experience in training and socializing while wearing a mask.
“On the first day of camp, everyone shows up with a mask already,” said first year instructor Owen Rees. “And they were pretty much ready to go. So that of course made it easier. “
Most of the kids were thrilled to be active again on the beach and in the water. Although they were mostly excited to be together.
“I think the most fun is spending time with friends on the beach,” said junior lifeguard Liam Hickey.
“I really see everyone, especially since we really haven’t seen anyone in the last year,” added Peyton Sperling, another junior lifeguard.
Rose Nelley, Bethany King and Lyle Dessouky agreed. Dessouky returns to the program for the first time since 2019.
“It’s really fun seeing people again and doing the things that I was missing about junior lifeguards,” she said.