Amateur philosopher, writer
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Editor’s Note: This feature was made possible by our partners at Waiakea Water.


Bryan Phillips has been an important part of the North Shore Lifeguard Association for the past 16 years. He’s saved countless lives as a rescue watercraft operator, and he’s prevented many more tragic accidents through his work with the Junior Lifeguard Program and water safety education efforts with the larger community.

“I took this job, because I was a young boy that didn’t do well in school and wanted to be a lifeguard to help out others,” Bryan said during an interview with KHON2 this fall.”

Phillips was recently recognized as Honolulu’s 2020 Employee of the Year for his lifesaving efforts during the difficult times of the pandemic that the world is experiencing.

“Lifeguards are the unspoken cowboys of the sea, managing a herd of people,” Bryan said in Lifeguard for Life, a short film by The Inertia in partnership with Waiakea Water. “The state of Hawaii shut down a few months back, there was nothing for people to do and government officials were saying the beaches are open, so that kept us super relevant. Even without the tourists coming in our calls were still as high as ever.”

From the towers on the beach at Pipeline and dotted along the North Shore’s treacherous surf, Bryan and his fellow lifeguards watch every wave that’s ridden, ready to jump into action should something go wrong. “Pipeline is the epitome of lifeguarding on the North Shore,” says Phillips. “When it’s on, it’s full action.” And as we all know, Pipeline has been “on” an unusual number of days this season, with massive swells hammering the North Shore all winter.

But not only is lifeguarding physically saving people, it’s preventing accidents before they happen as well, something Bryan is quick to note.

“Maybe you didn’t do one single rescue, but you talked to 5,000 people,” says Phillips. “Say you don’t talk to anyone… you’re going to have rescues all day long. I think this year has been a hard one for a lot of people, and I just want to remind myself and the people I work with that, ‘Hey, we have the best job in the world.'”

Directed and Edited by the very talented and highly affable Tay Steele. Follow Tay here.

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