When the name New Zealand is muttered into the air, thoughts of vast mountain ranges, open valleys, and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy pop into peoples' heads.
Though they weren't on a quest to Mordor, a group of 28 Huntington Beach junior lifeguards spent their Christmas break in New Zealand for a different sort of outdoor adventure.
The trip was part of an educational exchange program held every three years between New Zealand and Huntington Beach.
The staff at the beaches of Tairua and Piha taught the Orange County youth about their lifeguarding techniques and they even completed a helicopter rescue jump.
Trevor Powley, 16, of Huntington Beach, said he had fun participating in the jump, but some of the crew members on the helicopter had some fun with the lifeguards, he said.
"A crewmember was joking that there were sharks in the water and one girl got nervous," Powley said.
Over a span of three weeks starting Christmas Eve, the junior lifeguards spent a week in Queenstown, where they hiked up a glacier and made excursions through the South Island. They spent the rest of the trip at the beaches of the North Island, junior lifeguard coordinator Dave Simcox said.
"One of the biggest things they get out of this is the international relations they build with their fellow junior lifeguards in Piha and Tairua," Huntington Beach safety aides instructor Kyley Morita said.
Simcox explained that the teens chosen for the trip had to undergo a rigorous application process including multiple interviews.
"For a lot of them, it's their first interview experience. Some of them are very professional while others show up in their board shorts and sandals," Morita said.
Simcox added that they had to choose a well-rounded group of teens because they would be representing the junior lifeguard program, their high school and the city, he said.
After they are accepted, each junior lifeguard has to raise $4,300, either out of pocket or through fundraisers, to pay for the trip, Simcox said.
Though the New Zealand locals taught the junior lifeguards about their culture and spent time going on recreational trips, most of the time was spent educating the teens on lifeguard training.
Morita and Junior Lifeguards Captains instructor Greg Luttrell said the training included CPR and first-aid training, learning to be a crew member on an inflatable rubber boat for first response emergencies and rock rescue.
One of the drills that left an impression on the teens was the night dive in a cave off the cost of Tairua, simulating a nighttime rescue.
"It was pitch black and we only had glow sticks attached to our heads," said Holly Fosmire, 16, of Cypress. "It was pretty scary."
Though there won't be any helicopter jumps occurring in Huntington Beach any time soon and the coastline doesn't harbor rock cliffs, the junior lifeguards gain a different perspective on how they tackle issues at their local beach, Morita said.
After the training the junior lifeguards received at Tairua and Piha, all 28 teens are nationally certified lifeguards in New Zealand.
For Powley, a junior at Edison High School, his New Zealand lifeguard certification opens more opportunities for him.
"Knowing that I'm certified there is a big confidence booster," he said.