Having to deal with everything from cars buried axle-deep in the sand to recovering drowned bodies, the life of Los Angeles lifeguards may still need beefing up to sustain as a TV series, but it makes for an interesting and informative hourlong documentary. Like much good reportage about Los Angeles, docu, finely wrought under director Barbara Leibovitz, comes from afar — in this case, Atlanta-based WTBS.
Core of “L.A. Lifeguards” follows fresh crop of trainees, winnowed from 250 applicants to 32 who actually make it to the beach. Before, after and along the way is a bit of history, a couple of rescues and a fair amount of insight.
The service was founded several decades ago when officials decided that the number of bathers who drowned each year was bad publicity. Now there’s a guard for every 200 yards of L.A.’s 71-mile shoreline during the summer season, with six “recurrants,” or seasonal lifeguards, for every one on year-round duty. The lifeguards operate as a division of the county Fire Dept. and handle something like 10,000 rescues a year.
It’s not like “Baywatch.” For one thing, there are only two female lifeguards on year-round duty. The one spotlighted, Chris Linkletter, has run nearly 50 triathlons, including three Iron Man events in Hawaii.
As for the men, they tend toward hunkiness. One lifeguard interviewed here is a history teacher during the off-season, another is an emergency-room medic and a third, Greg Bonann, is creator and executive producer of “Baywatch,” though he continues to lifeguard professionally.
Some lifeguards are more articulate than others. “Some of these people,” the history teacher notes wryly of those he watches, “you wouldn’t let take a bath by themselves.” Another, speaking of his students in a Junior Lifeguard program, exclaims, “The kids are so awesome — it’s awesome!”