ESTERILLOS, Puntarenas – This central Pacific community recently sent four surfers to a competition in Hossegor, France.
Now the town is taking it a step further: transforming the teenagers into lifeguards.
A serious lifeguard program cannot come soon enough. Just two weeks ago, two teenage boys from Cartago, east of San José, were swept out with the dangerous currents that plague the coast. The body of one of the boys was found a short time later, while the other remains missing.
The four Esterillos boys who will soon be watching over the beaches – Maikol Torres, 16, Carlos Muñoz, 15, Danny Bishko, 16, and Anthony Helberth, 16 – were part of a 16-person Costa Rican team that placed 12th out of 36 teams in the International Surfing Association’s (ISA) Junior Surfing Competition, which ran for 28 days in May and June. The event is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
Without the town, the boys never would have made it to the competition.
“The whole community helped,” said Arturo Quirós, one of the boys’ first coaches and mentors in the Esterillos area. “People from the town gave donations, and they got a little bit of help from their sponsors.”
The people of Esterillos later saw opportunity in the boys as they returned from the competition. In December, when school lets out, Quirós will take the four boys to Jacó, a coastal town to the north, for a two-week training program through the Association of Lifeguards, which is recognized by the International Association of Lifeguards, a group that regulates the conduct and policy of lifeguards around the world.
“We wanted good young men with a savings account, a good part-time job, and [who were] on the honor roll,” said Rosemary Chamberlain, a community activist in Esterillos.
To date, Esterillos’ lifeguard program has been hit and miss, with the Red Cross helping out on a sporadic basis.
“These four kids were always in the water,” said Quirós, recalling the early days he spent with the four boys when he worked for a local hotel. “The first generation is like a real team. They don’t do drugs, and they are good people.”
The young men will be paid an hourly wage, something Chamberlain will finance through money earned during a recent recycling project. Besides steering people away from the strong rip currents and keeping a keen eye out for crocodiles, the boys will help keep the beach clean.
Chamberlain has also commissioned two new lifeguard towers where the boys will switch off on five-hour shifts. She persuaded a local developer to donate the money for one tower, and combined her own money with that of a local hotel to finance the other.
The locals will donate the labor to build the towers, said Chamberlain.
After the young men complete the lifeguarding classes, Chamberlain and Quirós said they hope to have the instructors come to Esterillos to spread general safety awareness and to recertify those people whose CPR qualifications have expired.