Jordan Naughton wasn’t expecting much.
Naughton, then a 16-year-old Torrey Pines High sophomore swimming standout, showed up for a 1,000-meter ocean swim in the frigid early spring ocean waters of Carlsbad Beach - part of the first phase of tryouts for the competitive state lifeguard selection process – in spite of the fact that she didn’t like her chances because she’d wanted to be a lifeguard since she was in elementary school.
Naughton was a high school sophomore competing against a field of mostly men in their late teens and early 20s.
She needed to finish in the top 80 out of a field of 200 to be considered for the interview phase, the next step of the grueling state lifeguard certification program. From there, a rigorous interview process whittled the field that would go on to the California State Parks Ocean Lifeguard Training Academy in Huntington Beach to 40.
There was no downside if she didn’t make the cut. She could try again next year or the year after.
“I never expected much to come of it because it was mostly big 20-year-old males who were in such good shape,” Naughton said.
“My parents were there with me when I was putting my wetsuit on before the race started. They were like, ‘You know what, it’s OK if you don’t make it Jordan, we’ll still love you.’
“We genuinely thought I wouldn’t make it through it. I genuinely didn’t think I would make it through.”
They were wrong.
She easily sailed through the Carlsbad Beach swim and aced the interviews.
She went on to complete the academy in Huntington Beach ranked No. 2 out of a field of 50.
Naughton’s rare combination of aptitude, athleticism and street smarts stood out, according to Ed Vodrazka, a state lifeguard and peace officer who is involved in the training.
Naughton said the selection process, which a few decades ago relied entirely on swimming ability, now emphasizes medical training and social skills.
In many cases, swimming skills are easier to develop than medical training and people skills.
“If they excel in the smarts and in the maturity department, they can actually get through as well,” Vodrazka said.
“It really helps when you have all three, and that’s what Jordy has. She’s mature, well beyond her years, very driven and she’s a remarkable swimmer. She was killing it on the swim.”
Torrey Pines has been killing it on the swim too.
Earlier this year the girls team won its ninth straight San Diego Section Division I championships, eclipsing a CIF record of eight consecutive titles previously held by the Carlsbad boys team. Torrey Pines’ boys team won its fifth straight title last month.
Naughton is among a growing number of Torrey Pines swimmers who are forgoing the club swimming circuit for the beaches of San Diego. They are among the ranks of lifeguards at Del Mar and Solana Beach, among others.
Falcons swimmers have the blessings to pursue lifeguarding from their coach, Richard Contreras.
Colin Boothman, also a Torrey Pines High swimmer, was certified by the state earlier this year.
“I think it’s a good way for kids to make a living and it’s a good way for them to use their aquatic prowess and skills to be a benefit to the community,” Contreras said.
“We need a strong lifeguard organization because we’re such a beach community. It’s a valuable job and it teaches them really good job skills and responsibility at a fairly early age, and it’s because of their swimming background that they can get into that job.”
Naughton was certified in late May of 2017 and, at 16, she started her rookie year by Memorial Day.
She is now in her second year as a state lifeguard.
The academy she exceled in was grueling.
She said 12-hour days started at 7 a.m. with early morning swimming and running on the beach, followed by eight hours of classes of medical and oceanographic studies, with tests the next day.
“They set up all these scenarios and they have all these distractions like fake blood,” Naughton said. “People singing and all this crazy stuff to simulate a real situation that would happen. They had people yelling at you to try to scare you off your game.”
Naughton wasn’t easily scared.
“It’s very rare to find a 16-year-old who’s mature enough to able to handle the stress and pressure, of pulling that off to be able to take charge of a scene like that,” Vodrazka said.
Naughton’s career at Torrey Pines includes being part of a 400 freestyle relay that set a section record at the prelims and earned All-America honors. The team also featured junior Kira Crage, sophomore Megan Woelkers and freshman Mia Kragh.
Naughton also plays on the water polo team.
Naughton hasn’t decided whether she’ll pursue collegiate swimming or polo. She said academics come first. Naughton, who has a 4.83 GPA, wants to become a doctor. She’s concerned that juggling a pre-med program and competing at a Division I program might be too much. She feels like she needs a break too. Playing two sports at Torrey Pines, and excelling in the classroom has been exhausting at times.
She’d always looked up to lifeguards growing up near the beach, and trained with the junior lifeguard program for six years before joining the state
As a first-responder, you tend to grow up quick.
“Once you become a lifeguard, you start to realize the consequences of your actions. You have to be so attentive, you see how quickly things change,” she said.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is lifeguarding being a predominantly male field. She said about 90 percent of those who she went through the selection process with were men.
She hopes to see more women take the plunge.
“I would love to see more women get more involved in lifeguarding,” she said. “It’s definitely still a male-dominated profession. But I think every year there’s more and more women getting into It, which is great to see.”