SPENCER Dicaire doesn't complain about bridge traffic during his daily commute.
In fact, as the 24-year-old Burnaby resident busses across the Lions Gate Bridge and his job site comes into view somewhere around mid-span, a smile invariably spreads across his face. And while others battle their bosses to relax summer dress codes, Dicaire breezes into his workplace in flip flops, beach shorts, a sleeveless shirt and a slathering of SPF 30.
Dicaire is a lifeguard at Ambleside Beach.
In West Vancouver, lifeguards are on duty at Ambleside and Dundarave beaches from June 25 to Sept. 3. They're the last on the North Shore, as the lifeguard chairs at North Vancouver's Cates and Panorama parks are unoccupied this summer following budget cuts.
It's not all sun, sand and working on a tan for the West Van team. A relaxed dress code and enviable outdoor work environment belie the importance of what they do.
Every year, between 400 and 500 Canadians die in water-related incidents. And it's not just youngsters who are at risk. Although risk-taking 18-to 24-year-olds continue to have the highest water-related death rate of any age group in Canada, the aging of our population has contributed to a 20 per cent increase over five years in drownings among baby boomers aged 50 to 64, according to a 2012 report prepared for the Drowning Prevention Research Centre Canada.
The continuing problem has prompted the Lifesaving Society to designate the third week in July - July 21-29 this year - as National Drowning Prevention Week in an effort to focus the public's attention on the issue.
Today, drowning in areas supervised by lifeguards is a rare occurrence, according to the society, which credits the training it provides to lifeguards for the the improvement.
At West Van's two patrolled beaches, lifeguards ensure that beachgoers comply with their No. 1 safety rule: that parents or guardians keep young children (ages 8 and under at the beach, age 7 at the pool) within arm's reach when in or near the water.
"At the beach, water conditions can change so rapidly," says Dicaire.
Lifeguards routinely walk the beach at Ambleside patrolling what they call the "I-5," the sandy strip of shoreline from the eastern rocky point to the park's western entrance near Hollyburn Sailing Club. They're looking for hazards in the sand and shoreline as well as assessing beachgoers for signs of sunburn and heat exhaustion.
When not in the lifeguard chair or on beach patrol, they're surveying the water by rowboat, assessing all swimmers within the roped swimming area and beyond, approaching when necessary to warn of potential dangers, and watching for signs of distress.
"If we can see it, we will respond to it," says Dicaire.
West Vancouver will spread the message of water safety during the 10th annual Lifeguard Challenge.
The skills showcase will take place Sunday, Aug. 19, from noon to 6 p.m. at Ambleside Beach alongside the community event Ambleside Day.