The Job of Saving Lives
Marvin Pérez and the Jacó Lifeguards
It’s no secret that Costa Rica has some of the most sought-after beaches in the world for surfing and fun in the sun! Jacó Beach, one of Costa Rica’s most developed beach towns, is also one of the most popular destinations for both national and international tourism. Playa Jacó and the neighboring Playa Hermosa are well-liked for their sandy beaches, as well as their incredible wave action. But often visitors and locals alike are ill-prepared for the strong tides and rip currents that come with that.
Unlike some other beaches in Costa Rica, Jacó is one of the more fortunate in having an official team of lifeguards supported by the local municipality’s department of lifeguards. The team is led by Chief Lifeguard, Marvin Pérez, affectionately known as “Mar Chen.” The well-liked Jacó native has devoted his life to tirelessly helping protect the beaches and people of this town.
When the recent pandemic affected Costa Rica, as it did the rest of the world, the role of lifeguards in Jacó shifted and evolved to adapt to the times. Pérez recently told me about his experience as a lifeguard from an early age and throughout these last few months. Below are highlights from my interview with him the second week of June.
Tell Howler readers a little about yourself
My nickname “Mar Chen the lifeguard” is thanks to the diminutive that my grandmother used to call me: “Mar,” like the immense ocean.
From an early age I knew that the sea would be my companion. The connection I had with water was one of my most marked characteristics growing up. I also became interested in water rescue from a very young age. That passion for being near the water — surfing and serving others — were my best virtues.
An anecdote that I like to remember from childhood is about recess time every day at school. Instead of running and playing like other children, I sat in front of the sea to observe every detail and every movement. I learned to read its tides and currents, which unquestionably created a connection that is difficult to explain.
Since then, I have been serving my community for more than 20 years saving human lives. Although it is difficult to define the exact number, I have counted thousands of water rescues and warnings involving people from all over the world.
Tell us about the department of lifeguards and your team
In 2010, our local government implemented the municipal lifeguard department. Since then we have been at the service of the community watching over and protecting the beach.
We are currently a team of three lifeguards who monitor the different beaches of the canton. That includes Playa Hermosa, which is recognized for having the best surfing waves in the country.
How long have you been a lifeguard?
Altogether, I have spent more than 20 years working as a lifeguard. At the age of 13, I started as a lifeguard providing service to different hotels in Playa Jacó. Then 11 years ago I was hired as a public employee to become head of the municipal lifeguard department.
The future of our beaches is in our hands.
Describe the response from your team and the community when the pandemic started
Our team is always willing to attend to any type of help requested. However, the arrival of this pandemic was somewhat unexpected. After working with a beach full of thousands of national and foreign tourists, we suddenly found ourselves on a beach that was completely empty. It has been one of the most striking images in our minds in recent years.
The community response has been very good. People have collaborated in following the new norms and rules established by our government. However, the levels of stress and anxiety from having to spend so much time without being able to enter the sea were noticeable.
How has the community responded since the beaches have started opening again?
To be clear, the beach is not fully open yet. Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health has permitted access exclusively from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. These current restrictions are being extended through July 11.
Luckily, the community has been responsible and have respected the rules established by our government.
Have you had the support of local surfers in your efforts to adhere to the new protocol for the beaches here?
Fortunately, we have always had support from the surfing community, since many of them are qualified as excellent lifeguards.
How does the future of beaches look in Jacó and Costa Rica?
The future of our beaches is in our hands. We know that opening protocols are being prepared at the national level. If we follow the regulations correctly, everything will be positive.
We have received many teachings during this time that must be transformed into positive outcomes to help us grow as a tourist destination.
Tell us about any other initiatives or events you have coming up.
At the moment I am waiting for permission to continue with various projects that we have been working on for several years. They consist of training boys and girls of all ages in water rescue issues.
I also plan to continue with the project of volunteer lifeguards, doing work through sustainability programs, teaching values and helping the youth of our town avoid falling into situations that put them at social risk. For this, we are always looking for support from different sponsors since the budget we have is minimal.
For more information about upcoming training programs and more, follow the lifeguards of Jacó on instagram @guardavidasmunicipalesplayaJacó