As a San Diego local and newly crowned lifeguard of the year, John Maher watches his stretch of beach from Westbourne Street at Windansea Beach in La Jolla. It’s not hard to see how the 33-year-old surfer found his way into a career that was perfectly suited for his lifestyle.
As a boy, Maher learned to swim, surf and dive in the waters off La Jolla, just yards from where his lifeguard umbrella now stands. That local knowledge of the breaks, currents and surrounding reefs has helped Maher rise to be not only one of the area’s finest surfers, but one of its finest lifeguards.
When recruits enter the lifeguard academy, they learn lifesaving techniques, proper communication and, as part of the San Diego Fire Department, survival training. Ocean knowledge, however, is much more difficult to teach. That is a skill that comes only after years of experience in all types of ocean conditions. It’s most definitely trial by fire.
Being a surfer, Maher was inclined to travel the globe in search of good waves: Hawaii, Fiji, Australia, Morocco and Indonesia, to name just a few of the exotic locales he’s visited.
Maher first became a lifeguard 16 years ago, mostly because it allowed him to be at the beach during the summer and take winters off so he could chase swells.
During one of those winters, he landed the coveted job of lifeguard on the Fijian island of Tavarua, one of the world’s premier surf resorts.
These things along don’t make someone a lifeguard, but they are priceless when it comes to learning about the ocean and its dangers.
Over the years, Maher also nurtured a passion for photography and has established himself as a fine ocean photographer with a strong following on social media and his website.
Despite success out of the water, Maher still comes back to his role as lifeguard with enthusiasm and professionalism. He is found most days bundled up, protected from the sun with a face full of sunscreen, making sure that local kids and tourists alike don’t fall victim to the large shore break and strong undertows at Windansea.
Last month Maher was awarded the huge honor of lifeguard of the year by his peers.
“He’s a good lifeguard with an amazing skill set. He’s well liked, well respected and he’s done a lot of hard work - good work,” 18-year lifeguard John Kerr said about Maher.
It’s that kind of work that has made Maher a standout, not only to his supervisors and co-workers, but to the people he protects daily from his perch along the stretch of coast that is very much his home.
To learn more about the San Diego lifeguards go to sandiego.gov/lifeguards/.
To see more of John Maher’s photography visit johnmaherphoto.com.
As a lifelong San Diegan, Ken Lewis has surfing and ocean life in his DNA. A 30-year surfer himself, Lewis has worked in the surf and skate industry for most of his career. Send him your thoughts about the surfing world to email@example.com or follow him on Instagram @hanger18.