By Adam Andrzejewski of Open The Books substack
Who knew that LA lifeguards - who work in the sun, ocean surf, and golden sands of California - could reap such unbelievable financial rewards?
It’s time we put Baywatch on pay watch. In 2019, we found top-paid lifeguards made up to $392,000.
Unfortunately, today, the pay and benefits are even more lucrative.
Daniel Douglas was the most highly paid and earned $510,283, an increase from $442,712 in 2020. As the “lifeguard captain,” he out-earned 1,000 of his peers: salary ($150,054), perks ($28,661), benefits ($85,508), and a whopping $246,060 in overtime pay.
The second highest paid, lifeguard chief Fernando Boiteux, pulled down $463,517 – up from $393,137 last year.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found 98 LA lifeguards earned at least $200,000 including benefits last year, and 20 made between $300,000 and $510,283. Thirty-seven lifeguards made between $50,000 and $247,000 in overtime alone.
And it’s not only about the cash compensation. After 30 years of service, LA lifeguards can retire as young as 55 on 79-percent of their pay.
Furthermore, we found that most of the top-paid lifeguards were men. In fact, only two of the top 20 high-earners were women: Virginia Rupe ($307,664; 16th highest paid), a lifeguard captain, and Lauren Dale ($303,518; 19th highest paid), an ocean lifeguard specialist.
Overtime pay drove earnings into the corporate executive range.
Last year alone, 37 lifeguards made overtime in amounts between $50,000 and $247,000. For example, Daniel Douglas (overtime: $246,060); James Orr (overtime: 146,506); Patrick O’Neil (overtime: $133,235); and five others each made six-figures plus.
However, in a six-year period, between 2016 and 2021, the LA lifeguard corps made a fortune in overtime. The top three high earners made between $505,579 and $980,007 in overtime alone: Daniel Douglas ($980,007); Jaro Spopek ($513,365); and James Orr ($505,579).
Some high-earning lifeguards also win awards for heroism. However, we found many lifeguards winning Valor Awards failed to crack the top of the payroll.
In 2020, the Medal of Valor winner, Edward “Nick” Macko (salary: $134,144), an ocean lifeguard, jumped into the rough waters in a remote Palos Verdes gorge and pulled a man to safety through potentially skull-crushing swells and over razor-sharp rocks.
In 2021, the Exemplary Service Award for EMS went to lifeguards Todd Ribera (comp: $184,676); Stephen Leon Jr. (comp: $36,597); Max Malamed (comp: $130,952); and Blake Hubbell (comp: $170,956).
Also winning Exemplary Service Awards were high-earners: ocean lifeguard specialist Lauren Dale ($303,518), the 19th highest paid lifeguard, and lifeguard captain Roque Roque ($319,566), the sixth highest paid in 2020.
Beach lifeguard pay dwarfs that of their colleagues at the pools. The highest paid “pool lifeguard” made $45,030, including pay and benefits.
During the pandemic, lifeguards continued to work and took additional precautions doing water rescues. Many traded their trunks and sunscreen for masks and scrubs at Covid testing sites. In some cases, lifeguards acted as police, enforcing stay-at-home orders, keeping people off the beaches and out of the water.
Why beach lifeguards earn so much money is an open question the L.A. taxpayer might start asking.
A lifeguard’s job can be dangerous, but it’s unclear why they are now paid up to a half million dollars a year.