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Kai Bond: Junior lifeguard grows up to be Captain of Marine Safety

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Captain Kai Bond says, “I started my career at eight.” 

And that’s not as much of an exaggeration as you might imagine. Even at such a young age, Bond had already developed a special attachment to the sea. That’s when he enrolled in Laguna’s Junior Lifeguard Program. Fast forward to 2018, and he’s now Captain of Marine Safety and has been employed by the City for 23 years. 

Although Bond wasn’t born in Laguna, he grew up here, and the ocean has always played a major role in his life, so the journey from Junior Lifeguard to Captain of Marine Safety isn’t unexpected, but it took a while. 

Love for the ocean started as a child

From the time he was a small child, Bond and his family spent a lot of time at the beach. He and his dad surfed at San Onofre and, of that time, he says, “I loved the ocean environment. Everything about it was exciting and fun. And the ocean is in a constant state of change.”

Bond participated in the Junior Lifeguard Program every year (from 8) until he was 15. I ask if there’s anyone from those days still around?

“Mike Guest,” he says. “He’s worked here for 40 years. He’s still out in the field making things happen.”

Logical step from Junior Lifeguard to Lifeguard

Not surprisingly, after the Junior Lifeguard Program, Bond tried out for lifeguard. “I was very excited about it. It was the natural next step. I found I had a passion for public service, I like to interact with the public, and I understand the beach is a place you’re supposed to have fun, but be safe.”

He was hired as a full-time lifeguard in 1995, and in June of 2006, he became an officer with Marine Safety. In November of 2017, he was appointed Captain of Marine Safety.

Kai Bond closeup

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Bond became Captain of Marine Safety in November of 2017

However, while growing up, he couldn’t spend all of his time in the water. 

Bond attended Top of the World Elementary, Thurston Middle School, and Laguna Beach High School. Then he continued on at Orange Coast College and Long Beach State, where he earned a degree in Film and Electronic Medium Management, which turned into being a production assistant on films. 

This work translated into long days in Los Angeles, but he was still deeply entrenched in Laguna. 

“I was commuting from Orange County to work. I always had a connection to both jobs. I would work a few days up in LA, then come back and lifeguard. There was never really a clear-cut separation. But I realized happiness was in location.” 

Happiness is in location

Currently, he lives in Laguna Hills with his wife Tonya, and daughters, six-year-old Ruby and five-year-old Penny. He met his wife through mutual friends, and although he excels in interacting with the public, he says, “It took four to five years to get up the courage to ask her out.”

With his new position as Captain of Marine Safety, comes a tremendous amount of responsibility – public service and education, overseeing lifeguards, interaction with City staff, contact with community members and visitors – there are many plates to keep in the air, and his training as a production manager serves him well. Because isn’t that exactly what production managers do, make sure everything is running correctly, and I mean everything? And the challenges are increasing.

Kai Bond inside tower

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View from the lifeguard tower

“The number of beachgoers is up, there has been a significant increase. We had 6,000,000 visitors last year,” Bond says.

That’s a substantial number of people to keep an eye on.

He continues, “There are a lot of factors that contribute to beach attendance. Laguna is a beautiful place to be, it’s a year-round resort. With the continuous building in Irvine, residents want to drive down the 133 and put their feet in the sand. It’s easy and fairly inexpensive. And social media is another big factor, people posting pictures and commenting, ‘come down to the beach, it’s beautiful.’”

Emphasis on safety

Of course, an increase in visitor attendance means an increased emphasis on safety, and that’s uppermost on his mind. As Watch Commander, Bond handles all the daily operations, critical rescues, and major medical situations. He oversees a minimum staff of 60 people, although he says, “We can bring on a few more depending on the conditions.”

Training is critical

“There is a huge emphasis on training. We are putting lifeguards out there without immediate direct supervision, and they have to perform at a very high level. They could be anywhere from Main Beach to an isolated area with rocks and reefs.”

Bond explains that they are on a continuous vigil without letup, constantly executing the “z scan.”

He expands, “Lifeguards scan the coastline by looking from the horizon to the beach in a “z” formation. This occurs in their area between their neighboring towers. I believe it gives beachgoers a sense of comfort to see that type of vigilance from a lifeguard.”

Additionally, they have rigorous criteria that must be met. Current lifeguards must requalify every year in order to return. They must be able to swim 1,000 meters in under 20 minutes and have recertification in CPR and first aid.

Kai Bond lifeguard

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Lifeguards scan coastline from the horizon to the beach in a “z” formation

Bond says, “My first day as a lifeguard was the longest day. I was nervous and hypervigilant. I’ll never forget it. Scanning for eight hours a day for a 16-year-old is difficult, but it gets better with more experience. We train to a very high standard.”

In addition to his operational duties, Bond also must attend a fair amount of administrative and City Council meetings, and he works closely with the Fire Department and the Police Department.

“I’m lucky to be able to interact with the Police and Firefighters and the City personnel. The people I work with make this job great. We have a lot of outstanding people here in the community,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to be a part of this community and to work with our city. Growing up during the time I did was definitely a privilege. My goal was to be in the Marine Safety Department. I’m honored and proud to be at this point in my life.”

Facing daily challenges 

It’s clear Bond loves his job.

“I get to work with great like-minded people in public service and safety. I’m fortunate to wake up every morning and want to go to work. I see every day as a new and exciting challenge.” 

What is his biggest challenge?

Bond says, ”We have more and more people every day, and the number is going to increase. This year has been different than in years past. People are coming at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. at night, which is the time they would usually be going home, and the crowds are staying a lot longer.”

The summer is now not the only busy time of year. “Spring breaks are at different times now, so the spring break is longer. It feels like summertime all year round.”

However, dealing with the public must be frustrating at times to lifeguards.

Bond says, “They learn to be very patient and direct if needed. Everything we do, and all of our actions, are based on public safety. And it’s difficult for a beachgoer to argue against the safety of the public. Hopefully, they understand that safety and the interest of the public are the lifeguard’s focus, and that they go hand-in-hand. Usually 99 percent of the time, beachgoers are compliant.”

Kai Bond with car

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Summer all year long now in Laguna 

Bond spends a considerable amount of time educating the public, and as result, he’s been to all the schools in town. He lectures on beach safety, and the kids are able to come to the lifeguard station as well for more interaction. 

His sister, Brett Dick, is a first grade teacher at Top of the World. Bond says, “One of the wonderful things I get to do in the education portion of my job is giving back. I got to read Dr. Seuss to her class. I sat in the same classroom that I had been in when I went there. It was a full circle moment.”

Other things have come full circle as well. Does Bond still surf? The answer is yes, and now he’s sharing his love for the ocean with his girls.

Viewing safety from a parent’s perspective

“Now, with my daughters, the big thing is family beach day. At their ages, they’re getting acclimated and in a comfort zone. They’re certainly enjoying the warm days and water. They’re starting to body board. It’s fun to see their first experiences in the water.”

Even though safety has always been prominent in his mind, he says, “It’s different now that I have little girls, it heightens the importance of preventing accidents. Being a parent gives me a different perspective.” 

When asked what’s the best part of his job, Bond says, “I’m always drawn back here, knowing that this was a community and organization where I wanted to work. I really love this career. It’s challenging mentally, and I love the physical aspects, especially making a critical rescue with a good outcome. And I get an opportunity to train staff and see them execute critical rescues as well. That’s why we’re here.”

Given the number of people flocking to our beaches, ensuring their safety appears to be a Herculean task, but if anyone can do it, it’s Captain Bond and his staff of lifeguards. 

Without a doubt, the journey from Junior Lifeguard to Captain of Marine Safety took some time, but it appears as if Bond was destined for this position from his very first swim in Laguna waters.