NEWPORT BEACH — Every summer, school-aged children from neighborhoods like Dover Shores and Corona del Mar board the Balboa Island Ferry and travel together to the beach. They wear massive backpacks and matching red and blue clothes — all from a marquee surfwear brand, to be sure.
Parents have to buy the expensive clothes and pay much more if they want their kids to join this group. These youngsters don't belong to a private swimming club or yacht club, but the city-run Junior Lifeguards program.
Newport Beach has the most expensive junior lifeguard program among its neighbors and other prominent Southern California beach cities. It can cost more than twice as much as a comparable program run by Huntington Beach, and a look at the differences provides a glimpse into Newport's culture: more elaborate clothes, higher salaries for managers and a willingness to spare no expense.
"I'm assuming we're getting what we pay for," said Janine McDonald, a fortysomething chief executive of a management consultancy who brought her daughter for the first time to Jr. Guards last week. "The program has a brand and its own reputation … I think I'm paying for top-quality staff."