Saving Lives: The Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards

Today we have an awesome guest post from The Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards, an awesome organization working hard to saves lives on the shores of Southern Costa Rica. While Southern Costa Rica has some of the most breathtaking beaches, it also has some of the most deadly. If it wasn’t for the lifeguards of this incredible organization, few people would be able to enjoy the blissful shores of the South without putting their life at risk. Get to know what the Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards are doing to make sure you, and your family, is safe on the shores of Southern Costa Rica:


The Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards Southern Costa Rica
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Saving Lives: The Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards


Thank you, Nate Bright, for writing this awesome guest post and sharing more about the history and purpose of The Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards!


Why Playa Dominical?

Playa Dominical became famous for being one of the best surfing beaches in Costa Rica; but unfortunately, it’s also one of the most dangerous. The ever-changing river mouth of the Rio Baru and larger swells (the distance between the crest and trough of a wave) combine to create frequent and unpredictable rip currents, which are dangerous even for experienced swimmers. The same conditions that make Playa Dominical ideal for world-class surfing also make it potentially life-threatening for the casual beachgoer.


Historically, there were roughly twenty drownings per year at Playa Dominical, but the Costa Ballena region has a 20-year history of paid, certified and volunteer lifeguards protecting the beaches. Thanks to these lifeguards, we now have two of the safest beaches in Costa Rica.


Playa Dominical, Costa Rica
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Photo via Daniel Moore


The History

In 1996, concerned residents of Dominical started a lifeguard program, which was the first of it’s kind in Central America. They were called ‘Pastores del Mar’.


Matt Haley, a veteran professional lifeguard from New Jersey, trained a generation of young locals and was their captain for twelve years, retiring in 2008. Andrew Webster, a senior lifeguard from Encinitas, California, was the lifeguard captain for the next four years. Unfortunately, without a seasoned veteran to lead them, the Dominical Lifeguard program ended in 2013.


In 2014, however, local developer and resident Brian Nice announced he was ready to start a beach lifeguard program at Playa Hermosa (another popular local beach with frequent and active rip currents.) He pledged to finance the program himself for the first year and managed to assemble a network of monthly donors to contribute as well. He hired former Dominical Lifeguard Alvaro Cedeno as his captain, who continues to train and manage a team of 6 lifeguards (4 full-time lifeguards and two alternates.)


At the end of 2014, a new group was formed under the leadership of Brian Nice and Perry Gladstone, called the Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards.


Some of their goals included bringing back the lifeguards in Dominical, exploring alternative fundraising opportunities, and eventually expanding to other beaches such as Playa Ventanas.


In September of 2015, the Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards were the first group in Costa Rica to be certified for ocean rescue by the Costa Rican Coast Guard, after an intensive 2-week training program held in Quepos. Immediately following their completion of this new certification course, the Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards assumed responsibility for Playa Dominical as well as Playa Hermosa.


Strategically, even though each beach has traditionally had separate programs, having one program operating on multiple beaches enabled the committee to streamline its efforts. They formed a legal entity to receive not-for-profit status, and as of March 2016, secured municipal funding as well.


This is a milestone event in the history of the local lifeguard program, and possibly a first for all of Costa Rica.


Dominical Lifeguard Program
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How The Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards Do What They Do

Since the beginning, the lifeguard programs have been supported by voluntary donations, coming mostly from dedicated residents and businesses in the area. The local municipality has always expressed interest in supporting the program but faces budgeting and legal roadblocks. Even though the municipality has now committed to funding the salaries of two lifeguards, local support is still vital.


Funding strategies have taken many forms over the years, but the long-running annual 4th of July party at Hotel Roca Verde has been the foundation of the funding platform and a highlight of the local social calendar. And after a three-year break, the 4th of July party back for 2016! There will be lots of food and drink specials, games for kids and adults, raffle prizes and silent auction, live music and fireworks of course!


Smaller monthly parties with live music, and raffle prizes will also continue. The Roadshack, Patrons, Tortilla Flats, the Bar Jolly Roger, the Vista Ballena Hotel and Ballena Bistro have all hosted and contributed to these fun and lively parties. A new event is currently being planned for Costa Rican Independence Day (September 15) and will be held at La Palma Beach Club. Mark it on your calendars now!


Another important supporting event is the annual Dominical Lifeguards Semana Santa Surf Classic surf contest. This event was conceived by and has been sponsored by Justin Hague, a local surfer and business owner.


With the donation of two 20′ shipping containers from Patron’s Restaurant and Bar in Dominical and a generous donation from another local program called CAP on Crime, there will soon be beach lockers on both Playa Dominical and Playa Hermosa. Renting a locker will not only make the beaches safer from petty theft but provide ongoing, sustainable incoming to the lifeguard program. Research is currently being also done to install a fresh water shower on Playa Hermosa for another potential revenue stream.


The lifeguard program to this day maintains a perfect record: zero preventable drownings with lifeguards on duty. Paid, certified lifeguards save lives. If you would like to volunteer on the committee, make a monthly or one-time donation, host a party or get involved in any way, you can connect with the program in the following ways:



Facebook: Guardavidas Costa Ballena Lifeguards


Have a specific question about the Guardavida Costa Ballena Lifeguards? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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