My name is Mackenzie Koepsell and I am an ocean lifeguard for the California State Parks Service in San Clemente, CA. The department sector I work for includes San Clemente State Beach, Doheny State Beach, and San Onofre State Beach. I am a Lifeguard II and am currently in my seventh year as a lifeguard. As a Lifeguard II, I oversee daily lifeguard operations, operate our trucks and Rescue Watercraft (RWC), work in our headquarters as a dispatcher, respond to aquatic and medical emergencies, and mentor younger lifeguards, amongst other duties. I am a certified EMT and am part of the training staff for our sector.

I am a second-generation lifeguard – both my dad and my uncle worked for the CA State Parks in San Clemente before me. Growing up in San Clemente, I was an avid surfer, swimmer, free diver, and beach bum. I started participating in the CA State Parks Junior Lifeguard Program when I was eight years old and eventually became a Youth Aide, where I learned about the dynamic ocean environment, medical emergencies, and what being a lifeguard is all about. I developed a love for the ocean and for using my skills to serve others at a young age and had my sight set on becoming a lifeguard for as long as I can remember.

I became a lifeguard for the CA State Parks Service when I was seventeen years old and was one of about six women actively working in our sector at that time. Today, nearly 15 of our 100 lifeguards on staff are women. I feel incredibly lucky to work in an environment where, as a woman, I am encouraged and supported by everyone I work with. The men and women I work with are my brothers and sisters and we have each other’s back in all facets of life. Despite the support and protection I receive from those I work with, being a woman in this line of work is incredibly difficult. Films like Baywatch have tainted the public perception of who lifeguards are and the dangers we face daily.

I cannot tell you how many times sexual expletives have been hurled my way by members of the public as I ran to and from rescues. It is a weekly, if not daily, occurrence to have men come up to me and make inappropriate comments on my being a woman, my appearance, my marital status, or inquire about personal details of my life. Men tend to have a difficult time grabbing my buoy or listening to my directions. As a lifeguard, you are always in the public eye. As a woman lifeguard, you are under even closer inspection and tend to attract unwarranted attention from the public. Although these situations are difficult and uncomfortable to deal with, I am grateful to have a community of lifeguards behind me that always have my back.

As a woman lifeguard, I recognize the incredible opportunity I have to mentor and guide young girls. I am humbled to be in a position where I am looked up to and my advice is sought after. As I said before, being a woman in this line of work is difficult and without the mentorship and guidance of the women before me, I never would have made it to where I am today. I am forever grateful for them and the path they carved for women like me.

I hope to pass on their advice and inspire young women to pursue their dreams, no matter what they may be. Women are just as capable and deserving of the opportunities men are afforded. I dream of the day when the distinction between men and women lifeguards is no longer necessary and we are recognized for the line of work we are in rather than our gender.

Images Provided by Mackenzie Koepsell.