Lifeguarding in Pop Culture

Lifesaving have been a part of many cultures around the world for more than 100 years. (For a brief history of Lifeguards and Lifesaving, go here.) In the United States, there was a constable of the surf in Atlantic City in the mid 1800′s and lifeguards on both coasts and around swimming pools made their appearance shortly after the turn of the 20th century. This page presents several examples of the popular culture of lifeguards and lifesaving that have had an impact on American, European, and worldwide culture.

Early Cartoons


Popeye, the Sailor Man



Here are some great examples of early cartoons with the theme of lifeguards and lifesaving, featuring Popeye the Sailor, Betty Boop, and Mickey Mouse. Those out there who love old cartoons, please note the differences between the flat, humdrum Popeye of Famous Studios in the ’50s and the original Fleischer Studios’s version of the 30s, Few realized that Robin Williams was doing a spot-on rendition of the Fleischer Studios Popeye in the movie of the same name that flopped in 1980.)

Lifeguards on the Big and Small Screen

Movies and television have made a major impact on what we think about professional lifeguards and such lifesaving techniques as victim recognition, swimming rescues, and CPR. All are enjoyable in one way or another, but only a few tell it like it is.

Here are some great lifesaving movies, TV shows, and shorts.

Motion Pictures

The big screen has had its share of lifeguard themes and related topics.

  • Silent film on artificial respiration – prone pressure, the Schafer method (1927) - This is such an interesting piece of film that it is included here and in Airway and Ventilation on this site.
  • 487854_The-Endless-SummerThe Endless Summer (1966) - OK. This is a surfing film (dubbed “the ultimate surfing adventure… in search of the perfect wave”), not a film about lifesaving (at least I didn’t put up Billy Jack or Rambo: First Blood). And anyway, since surfers like Duke Kahanamoku made up some very heroic early lifeguards, there will always be a connection between surfers and lifesaving. This film by Bruce Brown (starring surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August) made surfing popular in remote locations around the world and sparked two sequels.
  • Parker Stevenson and Sam Elliot

    Parker Stevenson and Sam Elliot

    The Lifeguard (1976) - This is an underrated story off an aging lifeguard who has trouble getting out of the lifeguard game. Sam Elliott plays the part of old-timer who just cannot leave the life so well, and Parker Stevenson parlays his co-starring role into a stint on Baywatch. The movie also co-stars Ann Archer and a young Kathleen Quinlan.

  • Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton)
    Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton)

    The Sandlot (1993). Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) and Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton) - a kid’s dream and a lifeguard’s nightmare (although Squints gets a little smile in the end)! (QB Christian Ponder dresses up as Squints and his wife as Wendy for Halloween 2013.)

  • Men of Honor (2000) - With Cuba Gooding Jr and Robert De Nero, this is not lifesaving per se, but deep-sea diving.
  • The Guardian (2006) - A Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer film starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. It has some great action scene but it’s basically a rehash of an Officer and a Gentleman or Men of Honor.
  • The Lifeguard (2013) - This film with Kirsten Bell (a relaunch of the Sam Elliot plot) is reviewed by Variety.
TV Shows

TV has also featured a range of lifeguard shows.

Shorts, Clips, and Parodies

No pop-culture look at lifeguards and lifesaving would be complete without the following short features.

The Effects of Pop Culture and Media on Lifesaving

The following links present articles, news reports, etc. about understanding real drowning, real first aid/CPR, real lifesaving.

I hope lifeguards, former, current, and up-coming, and the public under our protection will draw from this page a laugh, a tear, and above all respect and a desire to support community lifeguards: their protectors, their teammates and colleagues, and their friends.

To take a Lifeguard, First Aid/CPR, or WSI course, go to Classes & Training or contact one of the training agencies found in the Important First Aid/CPR Links and Pool Operation/Lifesaving links sections.