By Ellen Zoe Golden Photo courtesy: Joe Walsh
Since the Tamarindo Lifeguards began policing the ocean six years ago, there have been no drownings in their jurisdiction around the main area of the beach. In addition, they have averaged 30 assists and rescues for an average of about 1 a day each month in the last year.
There are many reasons for this accomplishment, and Patrick McNulty, one of the coordinators of this program, attributes this to a number of factors including the leadership of Captain of the lifeguards Jonathan Thompson, participation of many locals in the twicea-year training sessions led by Captain Luis Hildago, the meticulous statistics kept by those in the tower, and the support of the Asociacion de Desarrollo Integral de Tamarido (ADI), who lobbied the Santa Cruz Municipality for the new tower that sits in the prime viewing space.
The assist statistics include those people who are helped before a drowning can occur. Preemptive work comes while seeing someone caught in a riptide before they get out of control. “It’s a dead giveaway when you see someone get off their surfboard and try and swim out of the current,” he explained.
Assists also include medical emergencies, likes stings, cuts from one’s own or someone else’s surfboard, or more serious injuries.
For those medical emergencies, local doctor, Roberto Piloto, is quick to respond either on the beach or when someone is brought to his office located right on the main road not far from the lifeguard tower. Swimmers who go into the surfing area have not been a big problem for the lifeguards, because they are told to move into a different location away from the myriad of surf lessons on the main break. Yet, with the estuary moving south again, this gets a little more complicated, McNulty said, because there’s less of an area for both surfing and swimming.
“Right now, the river has made a lefthand turn, shortening the window,” he added. “But we don’t have many incidents where surfers run over swimmers. The lifeguards go and warn the swimmers and nine out of ten times the swimmers are careful.” The other good news is the support that the Tamarindo Lifeguards have received from Santa Cruz.
The new lifeguard tower, where policing takes place, was paid for entirely by the Municipality after much lobbying by ADI, including the consistent presentation of the rescue and assist statistics.
Salaries for the lifeguards remain paid by local businesses and ADI donations. Thompson of the Tamarindo Lifeguards is “a great captain and maintains the respect of others. He has completed all of the Red Cross training and sometimes at night drives for the Red Cross as well. He’s a great leader,” McNulty commended. Otis Walsh, at 13, the youngest person to complete the lifeguard training program. Pictured here with father, Joe Walsh, owner of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, one of the major supporters of the Tamarindo Lifeguards.
For years, Captain Hildago has been offering lifeguard certification training to the community twice a year.
About 10 to 20 people from the entire district, from Flamingo, Avellanas all the way to Tamarindo, have taken the training each time.
The makeup of the classes include individuals who work in surf programs or are instructors, or do tours with boats.
“My logic for this is to train as many people as possible, so that at any given moment, on any beach, there will be someone trained to assist in an emergency,” McNulty said.
“This is particularly important at the beaches around here that do not have full time lifeguards as we do in Tamarindo.”
Thirteen-year-old Otis Walsh is a graduate of the most recent lifeguard training, and volunteers to work in the tower with the older guys in order to enhance his training program. As the youngest person to ever complete the program that McNulty described as “not for the faint of heart”, Walsh is often seen preparing on the beach as the other lifeguards hit the water for a rescue or assist. He is instrumental in warning people of the dangers of the river and the rip currents, as well. “That work is an integral part of lifeguarding,” concluded McNulty.