story and photos by Trebor Britt
If you're visiting Siesta Beach and hear someone yell, "Hey Bam Bam," know that you're not in Bedrock and part of a Fred Flintstone episode. Your beach chair and blanket are probably located near the red lifeguard tower and someone is trying to get the attention of lifeguard, Chris Lender. Though
this 29 year old will respond to "Bam Bam," he prefers the nickname that reflects his home state, "Bama".
Chris grew up about 45 minutes north of Mobile. After graduating from high school and spending a couple of years in junior college, Chris decided to answer the call of the beach. He's been life guarding for 15 years, the last eight off the crystal waters of the Gulf of Mexico and white, powdery sands of Siesta Beach.
Growing up in Alabama, Chris played soccer, ran track and cross country, and practically lived at the beach. He became a lifeguard the summer of his
18th birthday and completely fell in love with sitting on the beach and being near the water all day. It was then he thought about making a career of it. He already had the athletic background and thought it would be cool to have a job that paid him to work out.
"My favorite day on the tower is Sundays," Chris said. "It draws the biggest and the wildest crowd and you get to be with the drum circle crowd. I love meeting all the people. Every day is something new and someone new. The water is never the same, the people on the water are never the same. It's just a great day every day sitting out here."
Chris is a certified "first responder" and is also certified in first aid. The lifeguards here are evaluated and re-qualified every six months to ensure that all there skills are sharp.
"We've had quite a few rescues out here," Chris related. "Every now and then we get big storms comin' through with 6, 7, 8 foot surf. Somebody gets caught in a rip current and we've pulled multiple people in from situations like that.
That really is the fun part of the job for me. I know I have the ability, I just don't get to use it every day."
Thanks to the full staff of lifeguards and excellent training, Siesta Beach is one of the safest beaches in Florida. If you've never been here before, check in with the lifeguards. Ask them what the flags mean, about the water conditions, where the safe spots are. They're more than willing to share any information they can.
Sarasota is a great location to do what Chris enjoys most; fishing. "I'll fish in the intracoastal, out here in the Gulf, or Point of Rocks. I love fishin' everywhere. Anywhere I can drop a line and get a bite. Mainly, if you catch me on my day off, I'm usually on my way to a fishin' hole." Big trucks, 4-wheelers and a mud hole also gets this lifeguard's adrenaline going.
Chris' favorite person to visit the beach is a guy they call Lion King. He dances to his radio wearing a little hat and holding feathers. "I have never introduced myself or met the man but I completely enjoy watching him dance around in circles. He does it for about a half hour at a time. He usually comes out here on Sunday afternoons. It's really fun."
You won't see him driving a canvas cart with stone wheels, but you will see him most days on the red lifeguard tower. He'll be carefully watching to assist anyone who might be in trouble on the beach recently named the #1 beach in America.