top of page
Being in the water is just a happy place for me. Swimming was my life from second grade through college at UC San Diego. I was a jack of all trades there — 200 individual medley, freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, everything from mid-distance to the mile.
My dad was a battalion chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and he let me know right when I was leaving for school that they were accepting applicants for a lifeguard opening. He told me to just go and take the swim test; I had no interest in lifeguarding because I was heading to college. But I did the test for the fun of it. Lo and behold, I placed high, got an interview, passed the interview and made it into the academy. I was on the beach the next summer.
This is my seventh summer as a lifeguard, which I do on weekends now that I’m working at Suffolk. No two days are alike. I’m at Santa Monica and Venice, which are really busy beaches. You’re always on your toes. If you look down for a second, you can lose track of what’s happening. I’ve worked the Santa Monica Pier the last few Fourth of July holidays. I’m running every 20 minutes pulling someone out of the water, dealing with lost kids, navigating language barriers — it’s chaos.
Being in the water is just a happy place for me.
Swimming in general used to be very stressful for me. I was a pool guy. There was a lot of pressure to perform in NCAA athletics at times, and it was kind of hard to act under so much pressure as an athlete on a Division I team. When I finished competing, though, I was able to really start enjoying swimming in open water as a lifeguard. But I still have a competitive outlet with our surf racing team, where we race in a series run by the U.S. Lifesaving Association. We do rescue relays, paddleboard relays, beach flag sprints — anything you could possibly think of.
It’s a nice change of pace to be able to go from the jobsite to being out at the beach. It’s the best cubicle a guy could have. There's such a tight-knit community and a lot of the people that I lifeguard with are really near and dear to me. Sometimes you get thrown in the action and you really get to work for your money those days. But sometimes you get a mellow tower, and you’re just out there spending an easy Saturday on the beach. Either way, I love it. It's something that I really cherish.
Derek Fordham, who was born and raised in Orange County, joined Suffolk’s Career Start program after working in residential construction across Southern California. His favorite lifeguarding tower to work is Avenue 23 on Venice Beach.
bottom of page