Malaysia has her own Baywatch programme - minus all that flesh-baring.
Set up by the Civil Defence Department UPA3) since 2003, these teams of volunteer lifeguards operate from various baywatch towers in 12 states.
In fact, in the 2004 tsunami, it was the lifeguards in Penang who raised the red flags minutes before the waves struck and thereby saved countless lives.
These lifeguards at the Batu Feringghi baywatch tower spotted the shifting water levels and the white crest of the approaching waves. With the help of beach resorts, they managed to pull swimmers inland and warn people to stay away.
At Miami Beach, a public beach in Penang, no lifeguards were stationed and 23 people perished during the tsunami.
The JPA?, lifeguards oversee the safety of beach-goers, prevent in-water and on-land incidents, monitor sea conditions, conduct rescue operations and extend first aid to victims.
Baywatch volunteers go through a two-week intensive training course run by JPA3. Similar to the Bronze Cross Medallion (life-saving qualification) training and adhering to the Australian guidelines, the course teaches participants to develop the necessary judgment, technique and physical ability needed to carry out water rescue, JPA23 trainer Major Zainal Abidin Zakaria says.
"Theories aside, the students do rescue scenarios in pools and at sea, learn to use rescue gear like tubes, surfboards, kayaks, rail and line, do aquabike patrols and respond to emergency situations, do CPR and treat jellyfish stings," adds Major Zainal who has been training lifeguards for 15 years.
He received his instructor's training from Surf Lifesaving Association (Australia) trainers brought to Malaysia by the Life Saving Society Malaysia.
'T0 pass the test, volunteers need to run 20Ore, then swim a distance of 200m in seven minutes or less."
To date (2005-2008), JPA3 has trained 458 volunteer lifeguards and erected 25 baywatch towers countrywide, with 19 in full operation.
A passion for the "job"Assigned to the Pantai Cenang watchtower in Langkawi, Siti Nordiana Mohd Nor, 22, and her colleagues, Faezahnoor Sharif, 22, and Roshani Abu, 21, are part of the Langkawi Baywatch team that does 24-hour surveillance and patrol on Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah.
The team works in rotation, with their all-female group (seven lifeguards) doing the llam -8pm shift and the meu doing the 8pin.am and midnight-gam shifts.
"On average, we deal with seven to eight cases a month, mostly involving light injuries like sprained ankles, cuts and bruises, or capsized kayaks and aquabikes," says Faezahnoor, who has two years'experience.
"The more serious cases involved a parasailer who crashed into the sand and injured his spine and two drowning cases in 2007."
The team does regular patrols on foot and also aquabikes. If they spot a looming
thunderstorm or the sea turning rough, they raise the red flag, alert swimmers and instruct them to leave the water. At Pantai Cenang, this means the swimming areas are
cordoned off by white buoys while the aquabike riders, parasailers and kayakers have to keep out of the swlmmmg area.
As volunteers, the lifeguards get paid RM4 an hour and they have to complete an eight-hour shift. On average, the girls receive about RM800 to RM900 a month.
In other states, where lifeguard operations are only on weekends and school holidays, the lifeguards hold other full-time jobs.
"But we are proud to be part of a uniform unit," says Faezahnoor, a fulltime lifeguard. "And we gain lots of knowledge and experience and learn to be disciplined?'