Their numbers are inked on their arms, but some have gone further by writing on their backs with Sharpies. The competitors from Kaua‘i have “True North” and “Top of the Island Chain Rep.” The kids from Maui: “Maui Boys” and “Kihei Boy.” Hawai‘i Island: “FBI” (“From Big Island”). The O‘ahu contingent sports North Shore Lifeguard Association tees, with the girls’ shirts fashionably knotted at the waist.
One hundred and fifty top achievers from each island—ages 13 to 17—line the shore at Kalapaki Beach, Kaua‘i, to compete in the 2010 Junior Lifeguard State Championship. A brigade of senior lifeguards in their signature yellow shirts and red shorts beam from behind their polarized glasses. Some of the Islands’ most illustrious watermen are on hand: Kaua‘i lifeguard captain and world champion tandem surfer Kalani Vierra, outrigger sailing canoe captain Marvin Otsuji, longtime Pipeline lifeguard Mark Cunningham and Makaha canoe surfing steersman Mel Pu‘u.
The junior guards will test their mettle in five events: a 1,000-meter run, beach flags (a crowd-pleasing adaptation of musical chairs), a 100-meter run/swim/run, a 200-meter swim and a six-person paddleboard relay. “It’s ruthless,” says Kaua‘i’s Sarah Faraola, describing the level of competition. But the 16-year-old has little to worry about: The Kaua‘i Junior Lifeguards have the home-beach advantage. Faraola, a six-year junior guard veteran, goes on to take second in the 15-to-17-yearold girls’ 1,000-meter run behind fellow Kauaian Lianna Patey. Teammate Pierce Murphy wins the boys’ 15-to-17 division for the third consecutive year.
The Kaua‘i kids represent in beach flags as well, where they race to grab twelveinch sections of garden hose—the “flags”— planted in the sand. Twenty-five yards away the contestants lie flat next to each other in a row, stomach down, with their elbows out and hands crossed under their chins. “Heads up!” the official calls. All heads lift.
“Heads down!” the official shouts. Heads drop. At the whistle the competitors pop up, turn and charge for the flags, often diving for a piece of hose. There’s one less flag than the number of players, and whoever comes up short is toast. Kaua‘i sweeps the event, taking first, second and third place in the girls’ 13-to-14 and girls’ 15-to-17 beach flags. They’ve also taken the boys’ 15-to-17 run. The results aren’t surprising—Kaua‘i has held the title of state champion six years running, and they’re poised to capture a seventh.