Wild Waves lifeguard spends summer saving lives

Wild Waves Theme Park in Federal Way usually hires more than 1,000 seasonal employees every year.  Visit - Courtesy photo
Wild Waves Theme Park in Federal Way usually hires more than 1,000 seasonal employees every year. Visit
— image credit: Courtesy photo

While showing off his skills on the ropes of an activity pool at Wild Waves Theme Park, a young boy lost his grip and found himself floundering.

Following a panicked intake of breath, the boy went under the surface.

Seconds later, Wild Waves special facilities lifeguard Trae Harrison brought the boy back from the depths.

Harrison is one of more than 100 young men and women employed by Wild Waves to ensure that guests have a safe and fun time at the park.

Harrison said he and some of the other guards like going to Wild Waves during their time off and do what they call "Speedo Runs." But as big a goofball as Harrison claims to be, he has still saved nine different swimmers this season.

Serious training

A friend urged Harrison to apply in June, and 20 minutes later, he landed an interview.

Harrison, 19, took the summer job and said it was the best choice he made this summer.

He is one of several lifeguards responsible for monitoring the attractions that have deeper water, such as the wave pool and the activity pool.

“Before we even started, we went through a four-day training process,” Harrison said.

He and his fellow trainees were lectured and given written tests, then tested on their swimming. At an area pool, they were instructed to swim 200 meters and tread water for two minutes while keeping their hands above the water.

“After that, they threw a brick to the bottom of a 12-feet-deep pool and we had to bring it back up,” Harrison said.

Lastly, one of the training supervisors would pretend to be drowning, doing one of a few movements regarded as “flashing.” The trainees were instructed to bring the supervisor to shore and then were given a dummy to perform CPR.

“It was a lot of training, but it's for a good reason,” Harrison said.

After he started actively guarding the lives of swimmers, Harrison learned that the training didn't stop after his shift started.

Periodically, the supervisors at Wild Waves will perform tests known as Vigilance Awareness Training — referred to as VATs.

“It's like the worst pop-quiz I've ever had,” Harrison said.

A supervisor will dress as a guest and jump into any given pool. The lifeguard being tested has a window of a few seconds to respond. Failure to respond comes with consequences.

“If you fail a VAT, they'll test you again that day. If you fail it again, you face a suspension,” Harrison said. “We are huge on safety, and my bosses keep me on my toes.”

Perfect summer job

Harrison is apparently very good with the Wild Waves guests.

“The guests love and adore me,” he said. “I'm surprisingly good with kids and I usually have a good sense of humor. I'll make jokes with the guests before they go down the slides.”

He won a Guest Service Award, further bolstering his opinion of himself.

Harrison's job also affords him the ability to monitor guests' behavior as well as their safety, and sometimes he can't help but laugh.

“One time, this timid little girl finally made it down one of our slides after psyching herself out a few times,” he said. “But then she didn't come out the bottom. Before I could radio down, she came climbing out the slide's entrance.”

There are other benefits to working for Wild Waves, one of Federal Way's largest employers and a cornerstone of the city's economy. Employees get a discount on park admission as well as the opportunity for rehire during the next season.

Harrison couldn't be happier with his summer job. He said each of his supervisors are awesome and much better than those at some of his previous jobs.

“I'll work at Wild Waves for as long as I can. I've made a ton of friends there and we hang out a lot outside of work," Harrison said. "I might even pick up a lifeguard job after summer.”


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