11 Questions for Hugo Maldonado
Supervising Lifeguard at Castaic Lake
August, 2007 - Issue #34
Hugi Maldonado
Hugi Maldonado
Santa Clarita residents are lucky to have a beautiful vacation spot right in their own backyard. One just needs to travel north on Interstate 5 to find the Castaic Lake Recreation facility. The lake is stocked with a wide variety of fish such as bass, trout and catfish, enough to make any angler content.

There are actually two bodies of water at the facility. The upper lake is used for sailing, power boating, jet skiing and fishing. There are boat rentals and a tackle shop on site. The lower lake is reserved for non-power boating, canoeing and swimming. The swimming area opened daily beginning June 18. Other activities at the lake include hiking, bike trails, picnic areas and camping.

Throughout the years, Hollywood has put its stamp on Castaic Lake, most recently using the facility to film segments of the television show "Fear Factor." It's a great place to be on a hot, summer afternoon and no one knows that more than the lucky guys and gals who work the area as lifeguards. We asked recently-married 33-year-old supervising lifeguard Hugo Maldonado what it's like to work all day at the lake.

1. How long have you been a lifeguard?

I've been a lifeguard since 1990. I started at Castaic Lake.

2. What qualifications are needed to become a lifeguard?

At a minimum, you need a high school diploma and the ability to swim 1,000 meters in 18 minutes or less. After that, you go into the academy which is held in the spring on five consecutive weekends. It's a very competitive academy and you learn CPR and other life guarding aspects. It's very physical. Los Angeles County is experiencing a lifeguard shortage and we are looking to step up our recruitment efforts.

3. Of course, we're thinking "Baywatch." Is life guarding as glamorous as most people think?

No (with a laugh). There are a lot of things we do like change the oil on the patrol boats, cutting and maintaining navigation buoys on the lake, ordering equipment and uniforms. I never saw David Hasselhoff do that. There are days when you come back and you are covered with lake sludge after pulling out ropes that have been sitting on the bottom of the lake. You just want to take a shower.

4. There are both swimmers and boaters at Castaic Lake. How many people come to the lake on an average weekend?

I can't tell you those numbers. It varies. There are numerous weekends we have to shut down our parking lot especially on those busy Sundays during the summer. We are basically limited by the number of parking spaces in the park. There is a lot of walk-in traffic, however.

5. Do you have any problems with unruly guests?

Ninety-eight percent of the people who visit this facility are here to recreate in a safe and conscientious manner and don't give us any problems at all. Unfortunately, there are a few people who have to be reminded of the rules. A big part of the lifeguard routine is educating the public on water safety. There's no alcohol allowed in any L.A. County Park and we do what we can to prevent that.

6. Tell us about the Junior Lifeguard program.

It is one of the most popular recreation programs we have in L. A. County. It is open to youth, nine to 17 years of age, during a four-week program that offers all sort of water-related recreational activities.

7. What do you think the kids get out of being in this program?

They learn everything about snorkeling and kayaking. They enter into junior lifeguard competitions. We emphasize physical fitness, CPR and lifesaving skills. I highly recommend the program.

8. What is the best thing about being a lifeguard?

The most rewarding thing about being a lifeguard is being able to help people on a daily basis. It's a great career while you're in college. I paid my way through graduate school while working as a lifeguard. It's great for young people going to college, giving you an opportunity to save money for books and cars during the summer and not have to be distracted by school.

9. Have you attended the Love Ride (an annual fund-raising event held at the lake that involves motorcycles and rock bands)?

I have not. It's a very popular event and it draws hundreds and hundreds of people and it raises money for a great cause. I'm usually working on the boats when it's happening up there.

10. Any problems with sunburns/bee stings/bathing suit mishaps?

I'm peeling right now.

11. What is something people do not know about Castaic Lake?

Castaic Lake is widely known as one of the best bass fishing lakes in the world. Bass fishing is the most popular activity year-round in Castaic. Of the top 10 large mouth bass caught in the world, five of them have been caught at Castaic.
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