Nine years ago, when he was 18, Robert Martini, decided to take the advice of his grandmother and become a lifeguard.
He was living in Fort Lauderdale at the time.
“I was always a beach bum, and my grandma said that I might as well work as a lifeguard. I thought it was pretty clever,” he says
Almost a decade later, Martini is still heeding his grandma’s career advice.
Born in Stone Mountain, Ga., Martini moved to Sarasota with his parents when he was 2. Martini’s father was a big fan of Sarasota and an even bigger fan of Siesta Key.
“He would always run to Siesta Beach. He was a crazy marathon runner,” Martini says of his dad.
When Martini was 10, his father died. The memorial service was held at the concession stand at Siesta Key Public Beach, and the ashes were scattered by the yellow lifeguard stand, because his father’s favorite color was yellow. After that, Martini and his mother moved to Fort Lauderdale, where Martini began to surf and hang out a lot at the beach.
Martini really began to embrace his love of the water and the waterman culture during a brief period when he lived in Hawaii. While he did not work as a lifeguard there, he did get to know lifeguards who took him under their wing and taught him all about paddleboarding, prone paddling and the waterman culture.
“I didn’t understand it until they told me all about it,” said Martini. “It’s all (about being) one with nature, you with nature. Going against whatever she throws at you and being respectful. Be one with the water.”
Once he completed his training as a lifeguard, Martini bounced around different parts of Florida. During one stint, he worked for the Manatee County Marine Rescue Division, but he finally ended up back in Sarasota in 2006 and back on the beach his father had loved so much.
As the principal instructor of the Sarasota County Junior Lifeguard Program, Martini is following in the footsteps of those Hawaii lifeguards he knew: he is helping children and youth understand the wonders and dangers of the water. He points out that he is able to provide insights to young people who may one day be his co-workers.
Martini and Ann White, the program coordinator, along with many others, have worked hard to make the Junior Lifeguard Program into an impressive one, with 72 young people having participated to date, Martini says. Each junior lifeguard becomes certified in CPR, thanks to the efforts of Roy Routh, the county’s lifeguard operations manager.
In 2009, Martini and his friend, Abe Uccello, a Siesta Realtor, went door-to-door, asking people and businesses to donate to the Junior Lifeguard Program. To spark extra attention in their fundraising efforts, Martini and Uccello promised to paddle on their prone paddleboards all the way down the Sarasota County coastline, from Longboat Key to Port Charlotte, a total of 36 miles.
“It’s more than a marathon and with your arms only!” Martini says. I thought that would be something (that would make) people (say), ‘Wow! That is crazy!’”
People were impressed and donated to the program. The men raised $4,000, which helped pay for boards, tents and buoys for junior lifeguards.
Martini has been showing off his own lifeguard skills and his prone paddleboard capabilities a lot in recent months. In July, he competed in the 2011 James “Mac” McCarthy Southeast Regional Lifeguard Competition on Siesta Public Beach, where his team did well..
Two weekends ago, Martini traveled to Hawaii, where he paddled in the 15th Annual Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championship. That event encompasses the 32-mile Ka’iwi Channel, also known as “crossing of bones,” which separates the islands of Molokai and Oahu. The trip was also Martini’s first time back in Hawaii since 2004.
“(Hawaii) is a very magical place I had been dying to go back to,” he says.
Martini had wanted to be a race participant for the previous five years, but he had been unable to travel to Hawaii. This year he not only made it to the Aloha State, he reached the finish line with a time of 6 hours, 24 minutes.
“Once you get in the middle of the crossing,” he says, “it is a life-changing moment.”
Martini described what he called the amazing feeling of being in water 2,300 feet deep, with sea creatures all around and fish flying in the air. “It was absolutely gorgeous, and I am definitely fortunate to have been able to see all that. It was a blessing.”
Now that Martini has returned from Hawaii, he is back on duty in his lifeguard stand, the yellow one, on Siesta beach.
“It means so much to my family for me to be living and working out here,” he says. “We put (my dad’s) ashes right in front of the yellow lifeguard stand … and now I work the yellow stand. I feel like he is watching over me and protecting me and making sure I can save people’s lives whenever they need it.”