NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- A veteran Southern California lifeguard died over the holiday weekend after jumping from a rescue boat to save a distressed swimmer. Pop culture often depicts the lifeguard as a kid with a tan lounging in a tall chair, but the job can be dangerous and, in some places, a lifelong profession.
A FULL-TIME JOB
Ben Carlson, the lifeguard who died Sunday in Newport Beach, was a seasonal worker making about $22 an hour, but he had been lifeguarding for 15 years. In the Southern California city, where sand and surf attract 10 million beach visitors each year, there are 13 full-time, year-round lifeguards. A handful of these guards made upward of $100,000 in salary, benefits and overtime in 2012. The city maintains a staff of 200 lifeguards in the summer.
Lifeguards generally must be able to swim 500 meters in 10 minutes or less. In Newport Beach, where strong currents, big surf and huge crowds make the job especially hard, lifeguards must be able to swim a minimum of 1,000 meters -- roughly six-tenths of a mile -- in 20 minutes or less and complete 16 hours of training. Guards must pass the test each year. Carlson had additional training to jump from a rescue boat and drive patrol vehicles.
Even calm-looking waters can be treacherous. In Newport Beach, beachgoers flock to a spot known as "The Wedge," where big waves attract surfers and body boarders from all over the world. Strong underwater currents can surprise even strong swimmers. The wave believed to have claimed the lifeguard Sunday was 10 to 12 feet high and part of a large swell that had earlier prompted a red flag warning.
HEAD ON A SWIVEL
Newport Beach is a beachgoer's paradise but full of pitfalls for lifeguards. Over 100,000 people packed onto the city's more than 6 miles of sand over the holiday weekend, with about 80 lifeguards on duty. And the big surf means the water is dangerously crowded with swimmers, surfers, body boarders and body surfers, who often jockey for waves.
Newport Beach is serious about its lifeguards -- so much so that it runs a training program to recruit the next generation. The teens train each day, many with the goal of getting a future job. Carlson had worked as a junior lifeguard instructor in the past.
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