Lifeguard Sean Lane saves his summers for the beach. A Hamburg native, he started as a lifeguard at Hamburg Town Park beach right after graduating from Canisius High School. More recently, the 24-year-old has worked at Woodlawn Beach State Park, where this summer as many as 700 people have filled the water at one time.
In 2011, Lane graduated from Cornell University and spent two winters holding jobs in the fitness industry. In August, he’ll be leaving for Boston College to work on a master’s degree in business administration. He hopes to find a job in Buffalo working as a financial consultant.
This is the last summer Lane will lifeguard.
People Talk: How long have you worked as a lifeguard?
Sean Lane: A long time, seven years. I wanted a job for the summer, and it’s a pretty good seasonal job. They don’t get mad when you leave every winter, and I had some friends who were also getting lifeguard-certified. Plus I knew I didn’t want to work food.
PT: What were you thinking the first time you climbed the platform?
SL: I was kind of intimidated because I was starting late in the season. I had just gotten out of high school. I didn’t know anybody. I was kind of thrown into the mix pretty quickly. Obviously I knew my training, but I didn’t know the ins and outs of the policy on the beach.
PT: Can you see for miles?
SL: You can definitely see Canada. You know what is actually mind-blowing? How much more you can see, and you’re only 6 feet up. Most of what we do is to prevent situations where people drown. It’s pretty difficult to spot someone who passively drowns. That’s our No. 1 job. We haven’t had a drowning at Woodlawn for as long as I’ve been working here. There was a drowning my first year working, but we didn’t run Woodlawn at that time. I was at Hamburg Beach. It was scary for us at Hamburg. We started running a lot more drills after it happened.
PT: How deep is the water?
SL: It gets to 5 feet all the way out to the buoy line.
PT: Is it true that people who are drowning do not make noise?
SL: That’s true. There’s two kinds of drowning: active and passive. Passive drowning is much more common. It would be someone who just slipped under the water. You could have a seizure, or dive underwater and hit your head. Active drowning people are struggling to swim. They know they are drowning. Passive drowning just happens.
PT: So how do you spot them?
SL: We have a tower every 50 yards. The entire swim zone is 150 yards. We have lifeguards in deep-water shifts posted at the end of the buoy line. If there was a problem, ideally they would be the first to respond to it. We also assign lifeguards to mid-water shifts and to beach walks. It’s about 50 yards from the tower to the buoy line.
PT: Have you saved anyone?
SL: Yeah, we definitely saved people down here. Typically it’s somebody who is struggling to swim, almost always young, under 12. Or somebody who is about to have a problem and their parent may not have seen it. You pull them onto a sandbar.
PT: What takes up a lifeguard’s day?
SL: Enforcing rules that keep people safe. The one I repeat the most is “Don’t throw sand.” Also, “Don’t throw people.” You’d be surprised how many times people age 16 to 20 obnoxiously throw sand at each other. Sometimes it’s kids but they stop when you ask them to. It’s the older people – when they get caught doing something – who are not used to it. We have more issues getting older people to respond than kids. It helps a lot to talk to people and not to yell – especially with adults. And it’s better face-to-face than using the megaphone or the whistle.
PT: You must be an expert on swim gear.
SL: I’ve worn the same swim trunks for seven years. I don’t know if I’m an expert because I tend to be less concerned with what people are wearing and more concerned with what they’re doing. I definitely see probably 1,000 swimsuits a day.
PT: As a lifeguard, is it easy for you to meet women?
SL: I don’t really try to when I’m here, but people definitely like to flirt on the beach. It’s more like we’re trying to do our job.
PT: Good answer. Have you read any good books lately?
SL: I just started reading the “Art of War” by Sun Tzu. I’m reading it for business school.
PT: When Woodlawn is closed to swimming because of contaminated water, do you still work?
SL: We still have to be here to help keep people from going in the water. And we’re also here to do first aid and things like that because the beach is still open.
PT: Aren’t you concerned about the contaminated waters?
SL: They test the water every single day. Typically it’s not closed very often. It usually closes when there are really long heat spells because heat obviously promotes bacteria growth. The other time it will close is if it rains a ton.
PT: Growing up, do you remember lifeguards on the beach and poolside?
SL: Well, when I was taking swim lessons, I hated lifeguards, and then I started swim team and there were lifeguards who were coaching me. I liked them. I also played soccer and rowed. My sophomore year, the boat I was in won the national championship for lightweights. It was pretty exciting.
PT: Do you go to the beach in your spare time?
SL: Actually I do. We have a volleyball league at Mickey Rats. Our team name is Black Ice, something Buffalo has all winter long. When we started out, we were relatively athletic but not very good. So whenever we would win, it was surprising. That’s why we are team Black Ice, because you never see us coming.