Lifeguarding Isn’t a Real Job, It’s for Power-Tripping Horny Teens

The petty tyrants of the pool are not to be respected

If you want to know whether a teenager would someday become a tin-pot dictator, given the right opportunities, then put them in a lifeguard chair. They will reveal their darkest, horniest self.

Lifeguarding is one of those rites of passage for a kid learning their way in the “real world,” with its jobs, money, personal responsibility and summers stolen by the drudgery of labor. And yet, there is a galaxy of difference between a youth who wears out their forearm scooping ice cream for sweaty suburbanites — or one wrangling a cabin full of hyperactive middle-schoolers at sleepaway camp — and the lazy, indifferent, superior lifeguard.

Trust me: I used to be one.

The menial toil of low-paying seasonal teen gigs is nowhere to be found in the daily routine of a lifeguard, which is more about cultivating an unapproachable look and hostile air. The greatest challenge of the position is to conquer the boredom that comes with watching a pool, lake or beach for an uninterrupted hour. In retrospect, this is laughable; anyone who has embarked on an adult “career” would now kill to make a few dollars by silently zoning out, let alone in nice weather, while twirling a whistle by its lanyard. Sun and breeze, no thoughts, head empty. It is the kind of employment where you can spend the entire shift mediating on the relationship between your ass and the surface upon which it rests. A luxury as depraved as it is idle.

More than half the time, however, a teen lifeguard is not actually at their post; they require extensive breaks for gossip, raiding the snack bar and disgusting flirtation. When I tell you that nobody ever drowned in my tenure as a lifeguard, it’s not because I was vigilant. A whole squadron of inexperienced swimmers could have met their watery doom while I was busy putting the moves on my crush Nicole. It is their good fortune (and mine) that they didn’t. As puberty-addled monsters who still describe hooking up in terms of what “base” you got to, wearing bathing suits to work, imagining themselves as the cast of their personal Baywatch spinoff, the priority of the teen lifeguard is converting their status into sexual capital. That’s it.

Still, the teenaged lifeguard isn’t merely looking for a locker room makeout. When they occupy the throne that sits above the action they are meant to control, they become seriously committed to this vain picture of authority. They are on display, a deceptively casual warning to troublemakers, but well-attuned to anyone who dares to disturb their catatonic trance. A lifeguard who sufficiently believes in their own ambiguous power can actually guilt a kid into sitting under their chair as punishment, and parents will not contest the matter. Sometimes the point can be made with a short, barked command —  “No running!” — but otherwise, a shrill blast from the whistle and a waggled finger is all it takes to reestablish the hierarchy of dominance. As always with the teen lifeguard, one must do the least for the greatest return.

The million-dollar question, though, is this: Could the teenage lifeguard ever save a life?

Quite possible, although they’d almost certainly resent you for it. Getting down from on high and into a body of water to use the rescue tube they normally treat like a body pillow is not what they signed up for. The prolonged heat exposure has no doubt baked the procedures for spinal injuries and mouth-to-mouth right out of their brain, and the best most of them can do is drag you out of the drink while someone else calls the paramedics. Then they’ll want a medal and their photo in the local newspaper for that.

Enough!

You randy sophomores offer nothing that a mildly attentive competent swimmer can’t provide. You only have a title and a paycheck to prop up various lies regarding “the economy” and “earning your keep.” We aren’t fooled for a second.

In their shallow hearts, teen lifeguards know they contribute nothing to society — that they deserve neither respect nor admiration. A single July afternoon spent mowing lawns would break them. I hope they bask in the false glow and deep tans while they can. Because this will be their peak. Once you’ve reigned as a horny tyrant of your town, you’ll never taste that satisfaction again.