The Imperative of Water Safety: SERC's "Lisa Amorao Water Rescue Games" Interview with Zina Deretsky

The Imperative of Water Safety: SERC’s “Lisa Amorao Water Rescue Games” Interview with Zina Deretsky

Lisa Amorao’s tragic passing while swimming in Monterey Bay in May 2022 was a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of open water. It was a wake-up call, emphasizing the need for safety measures even for the most seasoned swimmers. Lisa was not just a swimmer; she was a cherished friend of many and her loss reverberated deeply within the community.

Recognizing this, Zina Deretsky, a close friend of Lisa and a member of the South End Rowing Club in San Francisco, took action. Despite the club’s rich history and offerings like CPR training, there was a noticeable absence of specialized swim safety training. Zina’s question was straightforward: How can swimmers assist others in distress with minimal gear?

With the support of the club’s president, Fran Hegeler, Zina embarked on a mission to address this gap. They enlisted the expertise of James Matthews from Outer Bar Safety, a seasoned lifeguard with years of experience at Ocean Beach. The initial class was 6 hours and very extensive. A small team of swimmers who took the class, Jeany Duncan, Jim Bock, Greg Lowry, Patrick Foley, Ken Mignosa and Mimi Laubach, along with consultation from Dan Simonelli in San Diego worked very hard to condense the program to a 45 minute talk on land and 90 minutes of water drills.


The South End Rowing Club, with its diverse membership ranging from recreational swimmers to English Channel swimmers, has always been a hub of activity and learning in San Francisco. The Water Rescue Clinic program has 12 permanent instructors year round.

On September 2nd, SERC is sponsoring the Lisa Amorao Water Rescue Games, a day that intertwines community bonding, learning, and a tribute to Lisa’s legacy. Attendees will not only master specific water rescue techniques but also indulge in enjoyable activities. As emphasized by the organizers, the Lisa Amorao Rescue Clinic program has successfully blended fun with safety and awareness. Every swimmer should be equipped with these life-saving techniques, as a few hours of engaging learning could potentially save a life.

Q&A with Zina Deretsky

1. Zina, can you share the personal journey that led you to spearhead the Lisa Amorao Water Safety Initiative, and what do you hope to achieve with it in the long run?

I had a true love for Lisa. In her life, she led and inspired others and pushed herself to learn and grow. Instead of being overcome with grief at the loss, I wanted to do something active to channel her light. 

2. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while setting up the water safety program, and what key lessons have you learned from those experiences?

The biggest challenge is that there is a lot of literature and opinions on lifesaving, but very little on addressing the common occurrence of swimmers already in the water with minimal equipment. 

3. With the success of the Lisa Amorao Water Rescue Games and the safety classes, what are your plans or aspirations for the future of the program, and how do you envision its impact on the broader community of open water swimmers?

To date, we have trained 88 people in the program. With the rescue games this weekend, we’ll have 32 more and another 12 in October.  My goal is to offer 1 water rescue clinic a month for 5-6 months of the year at SERC. But I also hope other groups and clubs adopt similar programs in the years ahead.  

The clinic is dedicated to South End swimmer, Lisa Amorao. Lisa’s memory is a light to everyone she touched, and she touched so many, so profoundly.

On May 29, 2022, Lisa drowned swimming from San Carlos Beach, Monterey to Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA.

She was 44 years old.

Fueled by love for her, we pass along potentially life-saving techniques to our community.
The Water Phoenix logo of these clinics is a sybol of a force rising up from the waters, just like the traditional Phoenix rises up from the ashes.

Rest in peace, friend, comrade, swimmer, adventurer, special one constantly striving for self-betterment and growth.

Lisa Amorao Water Rescue Clinic Dedication

Photo credits: Zina Deretsky

Zina Deretsky website

South End Rowing Club

WOWSA