Ava Hanner says she has the "best job ever."
As a Volusia County Beach Safety specialist, the 23-year-old Wilbur-By-The-Sea resident has worked up and down the local coast, from Ormond Beach all the way to Port Orange. She started as a part-time lifeguard at 16 years old, and since then has become an EMT and is working on her master's in emergency and crisis management.
Hanner works 12-hours shifts, spending up to six hours in a lifeguard tower if needed. She didn't know it when she started, but Hanner said she quickly fell in love with being a lifeguard.
“There’s literally no better job, I’m convinced, still," Hanner said.
The Ormond Beach Observer recently spoke with Hanner on what being a lifeguard is really like, and the measures she takes to stay safe under the hot summer sun.
You're sitting out in paradise, and get to look at the water on the job. Does it feel like you're working?
We do have the best place to work ever, but it definitely is not as easy as people think that it is. We’re constantly watching the water, and constantly keeping an eye on everyone, so it is a little bit more stressful than just sitting up there all day getting tan.
What are some of the challenges you experience on a day-to-day basis?
In the summer, it’s super hot, so I drink literally so much water all day. I try to drink at least a gallon a day, and then being out in the sun, I try to wear my long-sleeved sun shirt every day because I hide from the sun as much as I can and stay under the umbrella.
And then of course, we have to stay in shape, so you have to work out a lot. We swim and run every morning before work for the most part.
Sunscreen or no sunscreen?
That’s literally the most important thing. Yes, I put on a lot of sunscreen. When I was younger, my mom would always tell me to put sunscreen on and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t need sunscreen,’ and now I wear sunscreen as much as I can.
What is one safety tip you wish people would know when they go to the beach?
To swim in front of a staffed lifeguard tower because we can’t help you if we can’t see you. I think we rescue 2,000 to 3,000 people every year just in Volusia County, which is an insane number and it’s all because there’s lifeguards out there.
We’re there to provide safety for everyone.
Do movies and TV shows correctly portray what you do?
Oh my gosh, no — they do not. We all actually went to go see the “Baywatch” movie together when it first came out, and that is so far from what we do. I don’t even remember the movie that much because it was so silly. People tell me about “Baywatch” all day, every day and it drives me insane.
I think TV makes it look like we just sit there and tan and run around in slow motion all day, but it’s a lot more serious. It’s stressful. We deal with tons and tons of medical calls and rescues every day. It’s a lot more than what’s shown on TV.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. What is something that you’ve found helpful to keep your skin safe?
My lips get really sunburned if I don’t put sunscreen chapstick on them. I never knew that before I started lifeguarding — that your lips could even get sunburned. I don’t go anywhere without my sunscreen lipstick.