A teenager locking down a summer job as a lifeguard used to be a big deal.

But this summer, several parks and recreation departments and YMCA's across the country are reporting a shortage of lifeguards. And an improving economy may be playing a big role.

The Ridge Road swimming pool in Raleigh, N.C. is packed. There are easily 200 people here competing in a swim meet, some of them as young as 5 years old.

A picture of the Fishing Pier at Ocean Isle Beach, NC.
Pubdog / Wikipedia

It’s National Rip Current Awareness Week. 

Rip currents killed at least seven people along the North Carolina coast last year, according to the National Weather Service.

Spencer Rogers is a specialist on shore erosion for North Carolina Sea Grant.  He says rip currents are a natural phenomenon that happen when narrow currents of water flow away from the coast.

 A beach swimmer on the Carolina coast. Officials warn of strong rip tide currents.
Billy Hathorn, Creative Commons

Safety officials on the coast are trying to make beachgoers more aware of rip currents. Those are the narrow channels of waves that can pull swimmers dangerously far offshore. Signs along North Carolina’s coastline advise visitors to ‘Break the Grip of the Rip.’

Spencer Rogers is with the governmental research organization North Carolina Sea Grant. He estimates that rip currents account for 80 percent of drowning and says the currents happen almost every day on North Carolina beaches, but are not always dangerous.

Erika Braun
Erika Braun

The U.S. Olympic swimming trials are underway in Omaha, Nebraska, and several North Carolinians have already qualified for the Olympic team headed to London this summer. Among the competitors in the trials' final days will be Raleigh's Erika Braun. She's one of only four swimmers in the country age 40 or older to qualify for the trials.