SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Santa Barbara Junior Lifeguards program returned to East Beach this week, hosting kids for the second time during the pandemic.
While instructors and students are still wearing masks on the sand, the feeling is much more optimistic than a year ago, even with fewer kids participating this year.
Tony Sholl, the city's Aquatics Supervisor, says there are roughly 900 kids participating in the program this summer, still three times as many as in pre-pandemic years but down from about 1,200 students last year.
Sholl says more sports and activities returning this summer means the Junior Lifeguards are no longer one of the only options in town.
"I'm happy, it means that we're getting back to normal times," he said. "We're still popular, which is really nice to see, and it takes a little bit of pressure off [the staff], as last year, we were one of the few programs that were even operating."
Many students who joined for the first time last year are excited to be back to work out and learn about staying safe and smart in the ocean. They also have experience now working out and socializing while keeping a mask on.
“On the first day of camp, everybody showing up with a mask already,” first year instructor Owen Rees said. “And they were pretty much ready to go. So that made it easier for sure.”
Most of the kids were excited to be active on the beach and in the water again. Though they were mostly excited to be with each other.
“I think the most fun is spending time with friends on the beach,” junior lifeguard Liam Hickey said.
“Just really seeing everyone, especially since we really haven’t gotten to see anyone in the past year,” added Peyton Sperling, another junior lifeguard.
Rose Nelley, Bethany King and Lyle Dessouky agreed. Dessouky is returning to the program for the first time since 2019.
“It’s really fun to see people again and do the things that I missed about Junior Lifeguards,” she said.