VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Lifeguards on the beach can only be in so many places. This year alone, there have been at least 200 water rescues at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
A few years ago, residents in Sandbridge felt the numbers were too high, so they decided to take water safety into their own hands. Together with the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Medical Services, they created a program that keeps kids safe in the water, by getting them ready for rescue.
In the summer, it’s hard to keep kids out of the water.
“My family is practically made out of water in a way,” said 11-year-old Bane Barton. He isn’t actually made of water, but he spends a lot of time in it.
Barton said, “It inspired me in a way.” Because of it, he wants to become a lifeguard.
“Every time I’ve seen somebody need help, I’ve really wanted to do something,” he said. That’s why it’s his third summer in Virginia Beach EMS’ Junior Lifeguard Camp.
“You’re doing what lifeguards do, so it’s kind of cool practicing it,” Barton said.
The camp started back in 2012; two years after Sandbridge resident Joan Davis came to Virginia Beach EMS with some concerns.
“Safety for our children in the area, and for safety for the general public that don’t understand the dangers of the ocean,” Davis said. She’s lived in the area for 45 years and says she’s pulled multiple grandkids out of the water.
Davis said, “You underestimate the power of the ocean on a daily basis.”
Davis joined forces with Cat Watson, a captain with Virginia Beach EMS. Watson created the annual camp, teaching kids water safety and basic lifeguarding skills.
“Yes the beach is fun, but it’s also Mother Nature so you have to be prepared for emergencies to come up,” said Watson. “How important is it to prevent, you know, one kid from getting in trouble, one child from getting stuck in a rip current.”
Lifeguards are stationed along Sandbridge beach, but 3 and a half miles of the beach have only patrols.
Watson wants to make sure these kids and their families know what to do if something goes wrong.
She said, “How great is it that they can kind of take this knowledge home to their parents and you know, maybe if they get stung by a jellyfish, that they’ll know to rub sand on it.”
More than 500 kids and teens have come through the camp, some of them as young as eight, so the instructors make sure it’s fun. But the lessons they take away, even at a young ago, can make a huge difference when they’re on the beach.
“I know what to do, what to do if I get stuck in a rip current, I know what to do if I get a stingray sting or a jellyfish sting,” Barton said. “And if I don’t know what to do, then I just go talk to a lifeguard.”
Their goal: get as many kids ready for rescue as possible.
The camps are already over for this summer, but they will be back next year.