9 Lifeguard Lessons
You don't want to meet Rocky Randall when he's on duty.

February 16, 2012

You don’t want to meet Rocky Randall when he’s on duty.

If you do, you’re probably fighting a losing battle with the Indian Ocean: you’ve smashed your head on a jagged reef; you’ve found your lungs filled with salt-water after being tumble-dried in Poseidon’s laundromat; or you’re being taunted by the invisible swoops and drags of fickle currents and rips. However, even worse is finding yourself in a situation like this when Rocky isn’t about… This is what you need to know.

The Durban Lifeguards’ Lean-and-Strong Rules

Make the ocean your home

Being active on the beach is a short cut to getting fit and it’s a great lifestyle too. “For me, the ocean is everything,” says Ryan Butcher. “I dive, I surf, I fish, I paddle. I do tow-in surfing, paddle-in surfing, small-wave surf, just about every day.” (What Butcher calls “small-wave surfing” is not what we would.) “It’s a culture of being a waterman,” he says, “and I think that’s also being recognised more these days.” It’s the same for Sihle Xaba. “I’m in the water 24/7, so if I’m not surfing, I’m under the water looking for fish.”

Take deeper breaths

As a spearfisherman, Xaba has trained himself to hold his breath for over three minutes. Learning to relax underwater is the most important part, he says. He recommends yoga exercises to gain more control over your breaths and also to relax. Don’t think of breathing deeply as just focusing on expanding your lungs, he says. Breathe in and make space by expanding your stomach, followed by your thorax and then in your throat. And quit smoking, he says. He’s mentoring four prospective lifeguards at the moment. “Some of them are still smoking cigarettes. It’s a hard habit to get over, but when I get them into spearfishing, I promise you they will quit. Trust me.”

Don’t stop working

“If there’s a situation where the guy has had a heart attack and drops on the beach and we know the guy’s dead, we’ll still work on that body for the sake of the family,” says Rocky Randall. “It takes four minutes for your brain to shut down, so the possibility of a person being alive after that is very slim. Only a doctor can presume that person is dead, so we’ll work until the paramedics arrive, and they normally take over and do what they have to do.”

Never assume

Don’t ever think that other beach-users are as fit and ocean savvy as you are. “Not everyone is on the same level,” says Butcher. “Most drownings don’t happen in big waves or in hectic conditions, it’s just people not having that same understanding of what’s going on, and you become more aware of that.”

Keep swimming

A prerequisite swim test must be carried out when enrolling at a lifesaving club. The entrance test for a lifeguard surf award is 400m in under eight minutes, and, for the pool award, 200m in under four minutes. The annual retest comprises a 200m run, a 400m swim and another 200m run – all in under 10 minutes.

Mix it up

Xaba enjoys the wide cross-training spectrum that lifesaving offers. “Besides just being a lifeguard, there are lots of other things you get to look at,” he says. “There’s kite-surfing, surfing, bodyboarding, skimboarding, canoeing, – you can always try something new out every day. There’s a lot to get involved with.” Each of these sports will target specific muscle groups, and boost your overall fitness level.

In-Case of Emergency…

Effective CPR can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival. Take this advice from Martin Botha, chairman of the Resuscitation Council of South Africa, on how you can save a life


If they are unconscious, immediately call emergency services by dialling 112 from a cell-phone or 10177 from a landline.


At the least, hands-only CPR should be initiated. With the victim on a hard, flat surface. Push hard and fast in the centre of the chest on the lower half of the breast bone 30 times at the rate of 100 presses per minute.


Alternate 30 chest compressions with two mouth-to-mouth ventilations, if you are trained to deliver breaths.