Stepping up onto the railing of the pier is half the battle. Actually stepping off takes guts and possibly a little coaxing.
“JG’s go ahead and split your fins. Place your hands above your heads. 1-2-3 Jump!”
With those words, dozens of junior lifeguards stepped off the rail of the Ocean Beach pier Wednesday and completed a task they had been waiting for all year.
Lined up on the pier, many of them wearing their yellow junior lifeguard shirts, most of the kids were excited for the jump.
“I am ready for this!” one girl said while giving a fist pump in the air. Two boys could be heard discussing it. “The only scary part is when you step up on the rail,” one told the other.
Some of the parents on hand however, told other stories of sleepless nights thinking about the jump.
The most challenging thing for the kids according to program manager James Murphy is the actual “walking of the gauntlet.”
“The kids have time to think about it as they walk out on the pier,” he said. “They hop up on the rail and get to look down that’s when they really think about it and their heart rates go up. Some are nervous and some just go right away. Others, you may have to do some confidence building even at the last minute.”
That happened to Maddy last summer. Last year, she got up on the rail and had to be coaxed by friends calling her name from the water below.
This year, Maddy jumped off like a pro. “Oh my gosh – so great! So much easier,” said her mom Marianne Alexander with a big smile. “This is literally the best program I’ve put her in. Better than any other summer camp.”
The camp runs three weeks and teaches the students skills for life. They learn through nature – all the instructors are city lifeguards who transfer their knowledge of the ocean to the kids. Students have to take a swim test to join the program but don’t need to have had spent time in the ocean surf to participate.
For kids who've worked hard during the summer months, the jump off the pier is not only a reward but a rite of passage.
“After they jump and they pop up – that says it all,” said Murphy. “Giving the all clear sign – that’s what the program is all about.”