From Junior Lifeguard to now Lifeguard II, Courtney Stamatis has seen it all! After wrapping up her third summer season with Encinitas this year, Courtney headed to Oahu to finish her undergraduate degree in Communicology at the University of Hawaii. Courtney put her ELA grant towards earning her EMT certification in 2021, and she's planning to return to the Encinitas beaches after graduation.
First things first: tell us about Oahu!
Well, my instagram is looking great lately but I promise it's been much harder work than it seems! I moved out to Oahu in September, but with the impact of Covid over the last few years, I actually haven't ever lived here before—so it's taken a little bit of adjusting. I'm working on my degree in Communicology, which is a research-based area of study that focuses on how people interact and communicate within relationships. Growing up, I always thought about becoming a teacher, but Covid really piqued my interest in the medical field—so getting my EMT education last year was a really exciting first step towards pursuing that.
What was your journey to lifeguarding like?
It's kind of a classic story, in a way—I started out as a Junior Lifeguard in Encinitas. The funny thing is that my Junior Lifeguard instructors were Dave Brown and Jon Strickland ... but before they were the Captain and Lieutenant of the department! At first, Junior Lifeguards was something that my parents kind of forced me into, just to have something to do during the summer, but once I got into it, I really started to enjoy it.
A couple of summers later, I was working at a beach camp at Moonlight, when Paul Giuliano—an Encinitas lifeguard, and probably the one who's responsible for recruiting half the department—talked me into becoming one of the Lifeguard Aides. From there, I joined our first in-house academy in 2019, and started on the beach in 2020, right in the middle of COVID. That was a strange first summer! I've been here ever since, and was just promoted to a Lifeguard II in December of 2021.
What do you love most about the job?
Definitely the camaraderie. Lifeguarding has given me this big sixty person family, and I love the feeling of everyone working together and everyone being so willing to help with anything that needs to be done.
What's the most challenging part of lifeguarding?
You never know what's going to happen, and every day is so different. Even moments before showing up at a call, we can sometimes have only a general idea of the situation—then once we're on scene, it becomes this exercise in thinking on our feet, problem solving, and sometimes doing a little bit of detective work to understand how we can best assist. It's fun but it definitely keeps you on your toes!
How has your EMT training come in handy?
The most recent instance I can remember feeling really grateful for that education was over the summer, when we found an unconscious victim on the beach at Swami's. I was on my break in the water, but as soon as I saw what was happening I came back to the tower and was able to get the victim the care they needed, alongside other guards and Encinitas firefighters.
Best beach snack?
A jar of peanut butter and a spoon! My Junior Lifeguards used to call me Skippy.
Favorite beach in Encinitas?
Swami's, of course!
Something you wish more people knew about lifeguarding?
We’re really involved in the Encinitas community, and we play a crucial role when someone’s injured on the beach or in an aquatic setting. I love the day to day of our work and actually being able to interact with people on the beach, because I think it really dispels that Baywatch association and the assumption and the outdated view that lifeguards just sit around and work on their tan.