When 14-year-old Aidan Lange's parents signed him up for the Oceano Dunes Junior Lifeguard program last summer, the Santa Maria teen hated the ocean and wanted no part of setting foot in the surf.
Today, Aidan's no longer afraid of the pounding waves and enjoys surfing with friends, a skill he learned during that first year in the month-long junior lifeguard program.
"My parents forced me to do it, but I ended up loving it," he said Tuesday about why he joined the program if he didn't like the ocean, adding he willingly signed up this summer.
The third season of State Parks' Oceano Dunes Junior Lifeguard program got underway Monday and will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, weekends excluded, through July 31. Program activities take place on the beach at the end of Grand Avenue in Grover Beach, and interested youth still can join.
Days begin with warm-ups in the sand that include stretches, sit-ups and push-ups, as well as running, in preparation for the ocean swimming that follows. After lunch, participants learn lifeguarding skills, which include some CPR and first-aid training, as well as self-rescue and rescue of others.
"It's something fun to do rather than just sitting around," Aidan added. "Plus, I am going to college, so (lifeguarding) would be an awesome job during college."
The growing program's goal is to maintain a safe and enjoyable beach environment by educating future generations -- participants' ages range from 9 to 17 -- through hands-on learning about coastal currents, swells, aquatic life and self-rescue. The youth also learn fitness, leadership and open water safety during their four weeks at the beach.
"It's not like a basic sports camp," Kaitlyn Tolin, program instructor and State Parks lifeguard, said. "Safety is No. 1, but fun is definitely No. 2. The ocean is big and scary, but they are learning."
When State Parks launched the junior lifeguard program three years ago, 15 kids participated. That number grew close to 30 last year, with 53 youth currently signed up for this season.
"We are excited to have almost doubled," Tolin said, adding she believes the program will continue to grow as more people find out about it. "Some day, some of these kids are going to be lifeguards."
Santa Maria teen Madi Boone, 14, wants to become a lifeguard and definitely believes the time she spends in the junior guard program -- this is her second year -- will help her achieve that goal. She also signed up for the program again because she wanted to see all the great friends she made last year.
"It's an easy way to have fun," the teen said.
Nipomo mom Sharon Abbott has two daughters in the program and had nothing but praise for State Parks, calling the junior lifeguard program "phenomenal" and "amazing."
"The hardest part is getting them off the beach," Abbott said about her daughters, Meghan, 13, and Rebecca, 10. "They want to stay out here until dusk."
For more information, call 473-7248 or visit www.ohv.parks.ca.gov/oceanodunesjg.