Two O‘ahu Lifeguards Talk Story About the Lifestyle and the Challenges of the Job

Lifeguards Capt. Paul Merino, 65, and Lt. Jason Patterson, 48, have guarded O‘ahu’s beaches for nearly 70 years. They monitor two different parts of the island—Merino in Waikīkī and Patterson on the West Side—but met many years ago at one of Merino’s clinics at Mākaha Beach Park. The pair talked story about the lifeguard lifestyle, the challenges of the job and a move to extend their hours on watch.



Lifeguards Capt. Paul Merino (left), 65, and Lt. Jason Patterson, 48, have guarded O‘ahu’s beaches for nearly 70 years. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino



Paul Merino: We were all beach rats at one time. I went to the University of Waikīkī. You probably went to the University of Mākaha. That’s where we gained our knowledge. Lifeguards are very simple people. The only thing I want to do is go to
the beach.


Jason Patterson: (nods) It’s like the uniform is internal. We’re always lifeguards. The lifeguards finish work at 5:30. They’ll hang out a little longer, watch the sunset, and that’s when there’s action too. When it comes down to the emergencies, that’s what really brings people together.


PM: People don’t always see that side of us. They think we’re a bunch of beach bums hanging out in a tower. They don’t realize that we are first-responding machines.


JP: Being in a tower, there could be nothing going on, and all of a sudden, bang!


PM: From zero to 100. They have to be alert every moment. They proactively stop it before it gets to be dangerous.


JP: One of the challenges the guys have is … dealing with people from all around the world. You have a communication barrier.


PM: They don’t always understand.


JP: For our guards, there’s that term—instead of using attacking words, use tactful words. Don’t say, “Eh, don’t go out there!” You say, “Excuse me, sir. It’s dangerous.”


PM: (points to Patterson) That’s what we teach all new lifeguards. When you approach a person … you say, “Excuse me. I’m the lifeguard on duty. There are some dangers I want to point out.” That’s the way, instead of, “Eh stupid! What you doing?!”


JP: (laughing) That’s the old-school way, right?


PM: Yeah, no more of that. The new-school [way] is prevention.


JP: Now too … the beaches that weren’t crowded before are packed, not only with tourists but also other locals.


PM: Who don’t know the West Side.


JP: A lot of the unguarded beaches are filling up also.


PM: Now because of the increase in population, the urban spread is taking them to beaches that weren’t crowded, and there’s no lifeguard there. We all agree that dawn to dusk [hours] are important. But we’ll need 150 more people to do that.


JP: Just in your district?


PM: Around the island. It’s not going to be something that’s islandwide right off the bat. This is a great thing that should’ve been done 20 years ago.


JP: There is a need.


PM: We’ll risk our own lives to save someone we don’t know! The lifeguards have been working dawn to dusk forever. They just haven’t been paid for it. When someone’s in trouble, we always go.


The city is slated to begin extending lifeguard hours from the current 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to sunup to sundown by July 2021.