Former lifeguard shares his own experiences and training the next generation of lifeguards

Arthur Verge shares his experience as a lifeguard and training the next generation of rescuers

May 29, 2018

Arthur leaning again one of the lifeguard post that run along the California coast. Photo by Justin Traylor.

Arthur Verge stares into the blue sparkling ocean, the waves dancing back and forth as they roll to the shoreline.

His light brown eyes glistened in the sunlight, while he lightly treads through the Manhattan beach sand.

He wears a green collared shirt and khaki cargo shorts as he climbs the lifeguard tower for a vantage point.

With his salt and pepper colored hair slicked back, he has a commanding nature about him as he surveys the beach.

Arthur then cracks a knowing smile as he begins to reminisce about the times he risked he risked his life while being a lifeguard.

“You can take anyone from off the street and train them to be a firefighter or a police officer. [You can’t do that] with a lifeguard. You have to have a very, very high level of swimming ability, and not everyone has that,” Arthur says.

But now he looks to move on to the new generation; he yearns to teach a new person how to save a life on the edge of the big blue pool.

He explains that lifeguards are “constantly tested,” but that the rigor of the job is worth it.

Arthur Verge is an energetic 61-year-old professor of history at El Camino College who is a freshly retired Venice and Santa Monica lifeguard. He currently resides in El Segundo, California, where he is working on his latest book. Meanwhile, he also trains students to become lifeguards as he once had been.

Arthur’s current student, Sean, is brand new to the lifeguard force, which is perfect timing as Arthur intends to “pass on the torch” to the next era of lifeguards.

He realizes the importance of having someone take his place after the tragic loss of his former El Camino student Brian Catel who died of a heart attack during a training accident.

Born and raised in El Segundo, Arthur grew up doing chores around the neighborhood to make money.

“I used to mow lawns and everything else for a buck an hour,” Arthur says. Then, he went to high school and joined the swim team. Soon after, he attended Santa Monica College.

While there, he continued swimming where he found a father figure in his coach, John Joseph.

Shortly after Arthur turned 18, he took the test to become a lifeguard. During the test, a swim coach judged 200 applicants on their speed and of the 200, they choose 50 of the fastest times that were submitted.

“I placed in the top 10”, Arthur says. Soon after, Arthur moved through the ranks and became a chief. After his years as a guard he became one of the most well-known lifeguards in the area.

Section Chief Ken Haskett of the LA County expresses the importance of being attentive on the job.

“We look for people that are very energetic and attentive. We want them to always keep their eyes on the beach because anything can happen,” Haskett says.

While Arthur loved his time on the force, he recalls less uplifting times throughout his years as a lifeguard, as well.

Arthur had a student named Brain Catel who passed away on the job. Brian passed away during a training accident.

“I was devastated, just devastated,” Arthur said.

He was doing some high intense swimming and he had a heart attack. People around tried to revive him but were unsuccessful.

“It was just too late,” Arthur says.

Brian was a deck hand on the life guard boat and he made everyone feel safe when he was on the job.

When he died it hit everyone hard.

“A lot of people don’t realize there’s a locker that needs to be cleaned and a spot that needs to be replaced and a spot that needs to be filled,” Arthur says.

Having to clean out Brian’s lockers was a hard task, but it had to be done and the guards had to move on.

He explained how it wasn’t only a student and a teacher relationship; it was a really close friendship. Arthur was forced to put on a tough persona because there was lives that was still needed to be saved while on the job.

“It’s part of the job. Things happen,” Arthur says. He continued to explain how because of that terrible event that took place, he is more cautious about recommending being a life guard to the El Camino swim team.

Sean smiling for the camera. Photo by Justin Traylor.

His new student and current life guard, Sean Hamada, who plans on acquiring the torch from Arthur, is ready for the challenge.

The 19-year-old economics major grew up spending his summers in Hermosa Beach as a Junior Lifeguard and swimming year-round on a club team up until he was eligible to take the test and join the ranks.

“Professor Verge is an iconic figure in the lifeguard community and his contributions to our life guard organization are immeasurable,” Sean says.

Arthur’s thoughts towards Sean are just as glowing.

“Sean is what you want in a life guard,” Arthur says. “Sean is energetic, very attentive, and a great swimmer. He’s a smart student, while also cool and composed. That’s exactly what we are looking for in a life guard.”

Sean is a very fitting candidate to receive the torch from Professor Verge.

Sean says that “every day I strive to put forth the best effort possible because I am representing guys like Professor Verge.”

They allowed him to work for the “best life saving agency in the world,” Sean said.

Life guards are out here helping people and having fun doing it.

“You’re saving lives and that’s the highest calling,” Arthur says.