A Bunch of Lifeguards Shared Their Craziest on the Job Stories

July 16th 2015

As a kid, I envied the teen lifeguards at my neighborhood community center. They looked like royalty sitting high up above everyone else, and I wanted this unique experience for myself someday. As a natural redhead with fair skin, my parents didn't allow me to swim without a t-shirt on (thanks, mom and dad), let alone pursue a career as a lifeguard.

Because that path wasn't in the cards for me, I lived vicariously through my favorite childhood movie "The Sandlot," which features a desirable, blonde lifeguard named Wendy Peffercorn. Her appeal is so powerful, in fact, that one day a young boy, 'Squints,' pretends to drown so he can trick her into kissing him. Naturally, Peffercorn isn't happy when she figures out that she's been violated by a little pest:

Overtime, I thought about this scene more and realized that lifeguard life isn't as glamorous and regal as I assumed growing up. I had never seen a lifeguard save someone, so I believed lifeguards tanned and relaxed under the sun most days. After consulting more than half a dozen former and current lifeguards about their craziest on-the-job experiences, however, I know my assumptions were completely off.

Here's what a bunch of past and present lifeguards had to say about working at pools.

People can be inconsiderate. 

"I work at a private tennis and swim club in a very affluent part of the Bay Area. One day an old lady was swimming, minding her own business when a teenage boy jumped on her. I don't mean jumped next to her and got her wet, he full on fell in on top of her while swimming. I tweeted my whistle, told the boy to apologize and informed him he had lost the privilege to swim for the day. His father stormed over minutes later, screaming at me for suspending his son's swimming privilege. Even after I recounted what had happened, he stated that 'I didn't know how to deal with kids' and 'had anger issues.' He filed a report to the club manager, and we had meetings over it for two days. They are no longer members of the club." -Patrick, 26, San Jose, California

"Kids pretended to drown in the pool so that I would pay attention to them. I'd come to work and all of the lifeguard chairs were literally thrown into the pool and waterlogged. Parents asked me to babysit their children outside of the pool numerous times. Parents yelled at me for yelling at their kids to walk [not run] by the pool. Kids threw pie at me while I sat in a bathing suit on the Fourth of July. Kids threw my purse/phone into the pool for kicks. Parents didn't reimburse me." -Martha, 26, Los Angeles, California

"There was a couple once who was basically having sex in the pool, they were grinding up against each other and I had to tell them to separate... it was so awkward. They just kind of smiled then kept trying to do it, eventually my manager kicked them out." -Kayla, 27, New York City

"I had a woman yell at me from across the pool to 'chill the fuck out' after I told her young kids multiple times to walk on the pool deck, so they wouldn't slip. Another time, there was a patron at a beach I worked at who didn't think I was enforcing rules strictly enough. She came up behind the stand and asked me 'ain't you got a whistle?' Which I told her I had, and she said 'I didn't hear it!' And when I told her I hadn't used it, she pointed out two boys who were play-fighting in the water and told me I was irresponsible, and told me she would report me." -Emily, 19, multiple cities in Minnesota

"[W]e had a bunch of nosy ladies on the community board who were obsessed with kicking people 'who didn't belong' out. They would call every day to see who was there, and threw out a nanny who was taking the kids she was working with to the pool because 'she wasn't a resident.'" -Meryl Branch-McTiernan, 33, Los Angeles, California

Letter to a lifeguardSarah from Santa Cruz, California

"So the story behind this letter: every summer we have a local rec program camp come with about 50 kids to swim during rec swim once a week. They're notorious for being obnoxious and unruly. So one day a group of boys from this camp were messing around in the locker rooms. A random patron asked them to stop, and one of the boys sprayed him in the face and yelled, 'Fuck you!' So one of our male head lifeguards was sent in there to regulate and the kid was being rude to him too. The lifeguard told the camp director and that's how the letter came about." -Sarah, 26, Santa Cruz, California

There are many uncomfortable, gross, and inappropriate aspects of the job.

"Both my brother and I worked at the local community college pool from the age of 15 'til we left for college.We live in a smaller town where there are a lot of older individuals. Aqua-fit classes were very popular when we lifeguarded. Once while my brother was guarding and I was in the office doing paperwork, an older woman came out with her 'aqua gloves' on and nothing else! The woman was an older, just up and forgot her suit after getting undressed in the locker room while chatting with friends.

I also had a man come out to swim during open lap swim with his testicle hanging out of his Speedo. As a 15-year-old, I had no idea how to approach a 45-year-old man about his exposed pieces! Luckily, during his stretching routine he noticed his misplaced suit." -Kara, Prescott, Arizona

"[O]n my first day of my new lifeguarding job, my co-worker told me that if we ever want to go home early, we could take a shit and drop it in the pool so that we [wouldn't] have to close. We never actually did it, because I didn't ever want to to go home that bad. My boss made me pull dead rats out of the kiddy pool and throw them into the Long Island Sound." -Meryl

"[T]here was the time an adult woman pooped in the pool, then she left a trail to the woman's room and shower, then smeared it all in the bathroom stall. It took people hours to clean and we had to shut down the pool for 24 hours." -Kayla

"One of my favorite stories involved a young girl who was climbing on a structure in what we call a splash pad (there's no more than an inch of water, lots of fountains, and the surfaces are fairly slippery), and she was in danger of falling- which could have been really bad. We don't have a guard specifically watching the splash pad, but I was walking past it in rotation and I saw the girl so I called over to her 'please don't climb on the rocks!' (The structure is supposed to look like piles of rock but they're made of rubber), and she didn't listen at all.

So I walked into the area and repeated myself, still no response from the girl. By this point I'm right behind her and I put my hand on her shoulder and tell her again that climbing is not allowed, and she walks away. About 20 minutes later I was sitting on the lifeguard stand and the girl's mother walks over to me and starts yelling at me for terrifying her daughter who 'doesn't speak a word of English, and is not scared to go in the water because she thinks she's going to be grabbed again.' I tried my best to tell her I was only doing my job, and that I didn't realize her daughter didn't speak English, but she didn't really believe me." -Emily

"Being given stern lectures inside a 9 foot by 7 foot boiler room by a creepy 50-year-old man named Chuck, who insisted I check pool pH levels every hour on the hour. Cleaning the bathrooms approximately once every hour because patrons are disgusting. Seriously ... pool bathrooms..." -Martha

Other memories and thoughts on the job: 

"[T]here is dealing with parents who think we're the kids' babysitters. Pools don't allow floatation devices. Parents get angry, but there are several reasons. One parent actually told another lifeguard that we wanted their kids to die because we wouldn't let them have floaties on their arms. But what parents do is they leave their kids there, without adult supervision, often times leave the pool and they just give them life jackets or something and expect them to be okay because the lifeguards are there. The arm floaties are actually REALLY dangerous because they slip down the kids arms and actually cause them to drown to because they float their wrists and their heads are kept under water.

Then one time I was giving a 5-year-old a swimming lesson and he swallowed some water, then we're sitting on the edge learning some kicks and he just projectile vomits ... thank god I wasn't in the way!" -Kayla

"[I coached] swim team and watched 50 percent of the kids in my age group half-drown, half-swim during meets. [There was also the] hilarious rivalry between the snack bar and lifeguards: we couldn't order food at certain hours because of other guests, we had to clock in five minutes after the hour or we lost an hour slot." -Martha

"Time spent lifeguarding is 95 percent mind-numbing boredom and 5 percent everything going wrong at once." -Patrick

"Through my four years I have never witnessed a drowning, so none of my stories are that dramatic in that particular way. I have jumped in the water several times, performed moderate first aid, and dealt with many a difficult patron however. [One time], I was lifeguarding at an obstacle race where there were times people had to get in the water, specifically at an obstacle involving a 15 foot jump into very deep water. We were there more as a precaution, but there were more than a couple people who needed to be assisted to the edge of the water, which showed me that even great athletes can panic upon hitting the water.

At one time though, I did have a woman approach me as I was guarding while standing in the water, and she said to me 'thank you for doing what you do, I know it's a tiresome and thankless position.' And that was really cool to hear from someone." -Emily

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