If I was a Lifeguard, no one would be rescued because swimmers would be waving for help and due to my extreme social behavior, I would be waving back. Thank goodness for Hawaii County Lifeguard, Rick L. Losman. I got to sit with Rick and interview him about life as a Lifeguard and being frugal with hand gestures.
What was your inspiration to become a Lifeguard for Hawaii County?
That would be in 1995, when I was living in Lapahoehoe and I was blessed to have an old Hawaiian man as a neighbor. He had asked to kokua (help) paint the swimming pool roof. (Laughing) Being from the mainland I didn’t know what that (kokua) meant. The Lifeguard at the time Ms. Bowman was holding a CPR and lifeguarding class and invited me to take the course. I didn’t want to at the time, but I showed up that night. Later I took the test and got a phone call saying you’re hired for the summer of ’96. And I’ve been a Lifeguard since.
Roughly how many rescues have you done?
Since 2001 when I became a permanent hire, I worked the Hilo and Keaukaha district and it was mostly local people so not too many rescues out there. But doing the start up program in the district of Ka’u, believe it or not I’ve had more rescues here (Ka’u) in the last three and half years since those years in the mid 90’s. I’m not sure the exact numbers but I would say around forty true rescues.
Which rescue was the most gnarliest?
By far, this one that happened in Pohoiki in Puna. A guy runs up to the tower and says a boat is overturned. The conditions were around 10 to 15 ft. faces and this fishing boat was coming back into the harbor as the surf started to come up. He got trapped inside his boat in the surf, he made it out from underneath the boat but it’s the first time I seen a grown man just lose it. I’ve always heard about people in shock not making right decisions and HE was definitely not making right decisions. I just had to manhandle the guy and tell him to snap out of it. We don’t have a jet ski program in the Hawaii County (Lifeguard) Department so it was more old school methods with only fins and a rescue tube. We were drifting down the coast into Keahialaka, a big wave surf spot and the man didn’t want to leave his stuff.
He had all his parachute cord and anchor line floating by his boat and just trying to get this man away from all this rope, it was just a gnarly situation. We were blessed to have a jet ski tow-in team nearby that saw us and they came and helped take the man back to shore safely. That was a pretty hairy situation that day.
Were there times where you feared for your own safety, during a rescue?
Well, definitely that time. Also on this island (Big Island) there’s a lot of deep water and not very many places to get back to shore with so many cliffs. I got to a victim one time and the current was too strong to bring him where I came from. We had to make it in further down the coast and we were counting the waves of the sets. So we were timing it and timing it and then decided OK the last wave of the next set we were going to go. I guess I wasn’t really afraid of my life but, I was more afraid of losing this guys life. I really didn’t want to lose this guy.
You met and married a local girl, how did you guys meet?
(Chuckling) It’s not really a funny story but in lower Puna there’s a big wave spot called Third Bay. I was surfing by myself and this woman paddled down the coast which is twenty minute paddle through sketchy parts in front of the cliffs. Right off the bat she catches a beautiful wave and got a nice barrel on it…I guess that was the beginning of our courtship right there.
What are the most memorable questions asked by beachgoers?
(Laughs) Oh gosh we get a lot of memorable questions like, Easy job huh? Or, Looks like you’re working hard today? Which is true though, we don’t get paid for what we’re doing, we get paid for what we CAN do.
The most memorable was this guy (Laughing) who was saying the exact stuff like, Yeah you got an easy job! While he was telling me this I was watching this tourist get sucked out by the rip current and I got to tell the man, (sarcastically speaking) Oh excuse me sir I have to save this persons LIFE. And right in front of him I got to paddle out and bring this older gentleman back to safety. Probably the most memorable.
What is your most memorable moment as a Lifeguard?
I guess the overall job of being a public servant and being able to help people. A lot of the times it’s a thankless job. You know, sometimes you bring people back in (shore) and they’re like, I could’ve made it in without you and you never see them again.
But this one woman who I rescued, sent me a letter from the mainland. It was really precious, she was 58 and it was a just a beautiful letter saying she has a second chance of life and each time she spends with her grand kids she thinks of that time I saved her and brought her out of the rip current.
It really meant a lot, it was a good feeling.
The urban myth of not swimming within 30 minutes of eating, True or False?
I would definitely have to say false on that one. I eat big meals sometimes and go right into the water and never had anything happen. Just thinking of this off the top of my head, (laughing) maybe that myth came from chlorinated pools on the mainland where people were sucking up water and threw up making the pool dirty. I don’t know how it spread to Hawaii…
Any words of wisdom for visitors looking to enjoy Hawaii’s waters?
Well, when you see white water it’s not nice and fluffy as I was told by tourists I rescued that said they just wanted to play in the nice fluffy water. It’s actually very turbulent and when all that white water comes in, it has to leave creating and forming currents. So before you go in the water, study it and see how the waves and water is moving. Obviously talk with local people and Lifeguard if the beach happens to be guarded.
You know like they teach the kids over here, you never turn your back to the ocean. Always stay calm, think clearly, act decisively and never panic. I guess that can be anything in life too right?