Mara Silka Helps Guard Pacific Palisades Area Beaches

By Laura Carr
Special to the Palisades News

Growing up near the beach provides numerous benefits and opportunities for fitness, entertainment and relaxation. But for Palisadian Mara Silka, 22, it offered a different route: lifeguarding.

Silka, who graduated from Palisades High School in 2012 and competed for Pali’s swim and water polo teams, began her career as a lifeguard in 2013. Although she graduated this spring from Northeastern University in Boston with a degree in biology, she has worked as a lifeguard over the summers to earn money for school.

“You can keep [lifeguarding] for as long as you want as long as you stay in shape,” she said.“And you get paid to work at the beach.”

In order to earn her certification, Silka had to complete a 1000-meter swim. She said, “[The Los Angeles County Fire Department] takes the top 100 or top 50, depending how much they need that year. The swim is in the ocean in October, so you’re lucky if the water’s warm. After that you have an interview process, a background check and training. The training is usually the month of May every weekend and lasts about 10 hours each day.”

Lifeguard Mara Silka worked with Junior Lifeguards in the summer of 2016.

Lifeguard Mara Silka worked with Junior Lifeguards in the summer of 2016.

As a fully certified lifeguard, Silka worked eight-hour shifts, usually in the lifeguard towers, although the frequency at which lifeguards must perform rescues depends on the location. “You could work at Will Rogers and have a calm day, or you could work at Venice and have a crazy day, or vice versa,” she said. “It all depends on the conditions.” Silka has performed more than 20 rescues (defined as when you pull someone out of the water). “I have rescued people from age 5 to 70,” she said. “There’s always those good lifeguards who have journals of all their rescues, but I’m not one of them. “Some lifeguards will say they’ve done about 50 over a weekend. My busiest day

I had 11 rescues at Venice Breakwater.” The greatest challenge of being a lifeguard, Silka said, is confronting the gendered double standard that people have for beach lifeguards. “There’s that whole imbalance when you’re at work in a bikini while your co-workers are in board shorts. [The public] wants the girl to take pictures with, and the public wants the guy [to perform lifeguard duties]. It’s a challenge when you make a rescue, but at the end of the day, you prove yourself.”

Silka’s favorite aspect of lifeguarding is the location and the impact she has on the public. “It beats any office job. You get to work on the beach all day, which I think is the best,” she said. “I have little girls running up to me asking for pictures because they want to be lifeguards, or the guy that you saved drowning. It’s rewarding.”

This past summer, Silka worked as an instructor for C group of the Junior Lifeguards program at Will Rogers State Beach.

“This was my first year with the JG program. I was working on the beach, mostly in a tower, and then I switched over to JGs. The JG program is super fun. If I could I would do it next year.”

This fall, Silka began the next chapter of her life as she moved to St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean to attend veterinary school at Ross University.

Her mother, Alicia, provides encouragement, and her father, Paul, an emergency room doctor, also has his lifeguard certification. He provided the impetus for Silka and her sisters Ana, 24, and Ellen, 20, to give it a try.

“I always knew that [lifeguarding is] a community—the lifeguard family,” Silka said. “I was always in that community, thanks to my dad.”

Paul said, “Mara (as well as my other daughters) have grown up with lifeguarding. They understand the profound nature of being responsible for the lives of others and the importance of service as it relates to community and purpose.”

He started an organization called the Professional Lifeguard Foundation 20 years ago. “Our mission is to provide scholarship award monies to Los Angeles County Ocean Lifeguards who are full-time students,” Paul said. “Our vision is that in supporting ‘scholarship’ we further enhance the quality of our lifeguard service, as many County Lifeguards remain active lifeguards even while pursuing other careers.”

“We try to get outside funding,” Mara said. “Anyone willing to donate, helps lifeguards with school, so that they can pursue other interests. It’s a good incentive for lifeguards to stay smart.”

Visit prolifeguard.org for more information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *