Del Mar lifeguards swap surf, sands with New Zealand counterparts


Although thousands of miles away, Del Mar and New Zealand lifeguards share a special bond. For more than 20 years, lifeguards have crossed the Pacific Ocean to train with one another.

“It’s like a tight-knit family,” Del Mar lifeguard chief Patrick Vergne. “It’s really helped us, and it’s a really fun thing.”

In December, three Del Mar lifeguards participated in the exchange program, leaving behind the California winter season to experience summer in New Zealand.

“Every year, New Zealand guards stay with us, so it was nice to go there and check out where and how they work,” said Solana Beach native Trevor Colbert, a Torrey Pines High School alum who joined the department three years ago at age 16. “It was cool to see firsthand.”

Now 19, Colbert is a freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and spends his summers as a lifeguard in Del Mar. He and fellow college-age lifeguards Brodie Martin and Madeline Crosby visited New Zealand during their winter break.

The lifeguards left Dec. 15 and returned Dec. 30 for a two-week stint of training and touring.

“It’s really a good educational program, especially for the younger lifeguards,” said Vergne, who took a group of young lifeguards to New Zealand about 15 years ago.

“The training is key. It’s bigger surf and different conditions. It’s valuable training that they wouldn’t necessarily get here.”

Besides the training they receive, Del Mar lifeguards travel to New Zealand to learn how to use inflatable rescue boats, which are widely used there but are not as common in the U.S. The Del Mar department has three Arancia rescue boats, all manufactured and imported directly from New Zealand.

Training on how to use the boats in New Zealand is ideal, Vergne said, since surf there is much choppier than on the California coastline.

Although Colbert has worked with the boats before, working with New Zealand lifeguards helped him improve his skills.

“They’re imported from New Zealand, so it’s like second nature for their lifeguards to be extremely well-trained drivers,” Colbert said. “The training helps us to keep everyone safe in Del Mar, especially in the smaller surf.”

Crosby, 18, who joined the department as a junior at Cathedral Catholic High School, agreed.

Now a freshman at the University of Oregon, she said, “I really showed an interest in boat driving and improving my skills. This was a good way to better our skills — working with people who drive them every day and know the boats inside and out.

“I feel a lot more confident in my skills. It will be good to use my skills this summer in making rescues and patrolling the beach in Del Mar.”

In addition to training, the local lifeguards spent time sightseeing during the trip, which is paid for by the participants.

“Everyone was really welcoming,” Crosby said. “They all wanted to help us learn things.”

Added Colbert, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We got to hang out with the locals and do stuff that normal tourists do, while we trained.”

In the summer, when it’s winter in New Zealand, Del Mar will welcome lifeguards from the island country. The New Zealanders will spend about two weeks training with the Del Mar department and touring San Diego beaches.

“Lifeguarding is such a strong community,” Crosby said. “This is a wonderful program that brings lifeguards together.”