Lifeguard Training

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 8.10.49 AMBy George Hurchalla

Just before Semana Santa began, the Huatulco Fire Department got a most timely visit from a great friend, Hawaii lifeguard Rick Williams. Two years ago during one of his annual visits to surf in the area that he has been visiting for the past decade, Williams trained the firemen – most of whom also serve as lifeguards at Huatulco beaches – in rescue techniques at Playa Chahue. They also spent a day up at the village of Coyula training the local residents in CPR and lifesaving techniques, as they have no lifeguards or medical help to depend on there. This time around Williams brought a much appreciated gift for the lifeguards, in the form of an 11 foot long, inflatable professional surf rescue board. The board is manufactured by the C4 Waterman company, based in Hawaii.

Williams is a member of a club called the North Shore Lifeguard Association, which contributed the rescue board, and is a 34 year lifeguard on the North Shore of Oahu. He has been called out many times to rescue people in some of the most dangerous surf on the planet, as he is a lifeguard at the fabled surf break Pipeline. Over his career Williams has rescued over 600 people.

On April 10, Williams spent a few hours at Playa Chahue training the lifeguards in rescue techniques utilizing the board. The board allows lifeguards much faster access to victims further from shore, and makes it easier to rescue unconscious victims. With multiple straps built into the deck of the board, it also allows multiple victims to hold on to the rescue board at the same time. As the Huatulco zone features very few beaches with breaking surf, and more with rapid drop offs and rip current problems like Chahue, the lifeguards here have had very little opportunity to learn surf rescue methods. They welcomed the opportunity to learn new skills, and participated eagerly in the exercise. While training them, Williams reiterated a statement he made two years ago.

“If the work I do here results in the saving of a single life, it will have been completely worth it.”

Williams was pleased to hear through a friend last year that the firemen had saved swimmers in trouble at Playa Chahue, and in a radio interview the local firemen credited their ability to do so to their “friend from Hawaii” who taught them the rescue skills. The past training has already paid off. Previous to working with the Huatulco lifeguards, Williams brought equipment from the North Shore Lifeguard Association to Puerto Escondido to donate to the lifeguards there. These days the Puerto Escondido lifeguards are regarded as some of the finest in Mexico, having to regularly challenge the treacherous surf of Zicatela, and are well equipped and well trained. Two years ago, his friend Rolando from the Tlayudas Arely restaurant in Crucecita suggested that Williams offer some of his expertise to the Huatulco lifeguards, who were much more in need of training and equipment. Williams has thoroughly enjoyed working with the Huatulco firemen and has made a whole new group of friends.

“They’re picking it up really quickly,” Williams observed proudly as one lifeguard after another took turns on the board on April 10, rescuing mock drowning victims. “I’m happy with their progress.”

Municipal President Dario Pacheco Venegas arrived in mid-morning to watch a demonstration of the new skills, and on behalf of Huatulco presented Williams with a certificate of appreciation for his donation and training efforts in the community.

“Huatulco has many beautiful and calm beaches,” stated Pacheco Venegas, “but also beaches with strong swell like Chahue, Tangolunda, and Bocana, and they are dangerous when people aren’t cautious and don’t know how to swim well. We hope they (the North Shore Lifeguards) can continue with their support, and they will always be welcome.”

Williams spent a few more hours with the lifeguards on April 13 at Chahue, practicing multiple rescues, and was even more impressed how quickly they were taking to the new board.

“I can’t say enough about these guys. They’re a tremendous group and have already become like family to me. They’re unsung heroes of this community.”

The Huatulco firemen don’t get much government support and rely largely on donations and fundraising to buy equipment. Civil Protection director Fernando Alderete Blas expressed his heartfelt thanks to Williams for his donation and the work with his men, as it is rare for them to encounter this level of support from outsiders to Huatulco.

The Bomberos station is located on Blvd. Benito Juarez beside the Red Cross and the post office.

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