Tourists probably would be surprised to learn that lifeguards in Costa Rica do not protect all the popular beaches nor are they all supported by the central or municipal government.
At some of the major tourist magnets, community leaders have been responsible for supporting the lifeguard corps. And sometimes there is no lifeguard corps.
Dominical residents are planning to make sure their lifeguards stay on the job by means of a Feb. 13 benefit. That central Pacific community has had lifeguards on the beach since 1996. Recent economic conditions have created stress, so much so that the six-person lifeguard corps briefly staged a walkout.
The situation there is typical of other beach communities.
A.M. Costa Rica wrote about the Dominical lifeguard corps eight years ago when it was becoming more professional. That happened after a relative of a local hotel owner died in the surf the day after his wedding in the beach community.
The community had been able to support the lifeguard corps until the recent economic downturn. Steve Fergus, now the chairman of the board of directors of the recently formed Dominical Lifeguards S.A., notes that a July 4 fundraiser brought in $10,000 last year. The organization even has a Web page.
However, the donations are inconsistent and other community groups also now seek donations, he noted.
Fergus said Wednesday that the six-person local corps won certification under unusual circumstances, and this will allow the corps to see municipal funding.
The certification came from a Jacó man, Marvin Méndez, who supervises the lifeguards in that community. The unusual circumstances, according to Fergus, is that Méndez arrived Aug. 31 in the community just as lifeguards were rescuing a surfer who got in trouble amid 10-foot waves. After that demonstration, certification was assured, Fergus said. In all, the corps can claim 1,000 documented rescues. The beach there sometimes has a strong undertow.
One of the lifeguards participating in the Aug. 31 rescue was Andrew Webster, a California-trained lifeguard who joined the corps after 8-year captain Matt Haley married and left.
Fergus credited Mike Witte of Hotel Roca Verde and Jennifer Brummer of Tortilla Flats restaurant with picking up much of the financial slack. They and other local merchants have agreed to cover the estimated $1,600 monthly payroll of the lifeguards.
Fergus, who operates a surf camp, said he thinks that municipal support and acquiring non-profit status with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service will be the long-term solutions for supporting the corps. With non-profit status, the lifeguard organization would attract donations from foundations and others Stateside because those who give would be able to deduct the expense from their tax returns.
In the meantime, the Dominical Little Theater Group has stepped in to set up the Feb. 13 benefit. The event starts at 3 p.m. It is called “A Valentine for our Heroes.”