Talk about your humble beginnings. Tom Griffiths, now head of the National Recreation and Park Association’s Aquatic Branch, actually started his aquatics career picking up ice cream wrappers at a small waterpark in Laura Lake, N.J.

Fast-forward to today and the 55-year-old Griffiths boasts an illustrious aquatics career that includes several books (The Complete Swimming Pool Reference among them), prestigious awards (NRPA’s Distinguished Aquatic Professional among the most recent), impressive titles (director of aquatics and safety officer for athletics at the storied Penn State University) and an ongoing legacy (his Five Minute Scanning Strategy is used by all 35,000 Ellis & Associates lifeguards).

And these days, he’s anything but shy — especially when it comes to his opinions about aquatics.

First off, he says, the industry needs to get off its collective duff and do more research. “We write manuals based on committee review. To me, we just don’t have enough conversation in the field as to why we do things this way,” says the owner of the Aquatic Safety Research Group.

“Oftentimes, I think we as a profession are just lazy.”

And it’s time the volunteer-oriented industry realized that what it does is worth something, Griffiths says. “One of the big reasons we keep losing great professionals is because of the overwhelming idea that there’s no money in aquatics,” he says. “Tiger Woods can make millions without saving a life and no one in our profession is allowed to make any money? If you can improve safety and make money while you’re doing it, what’s wrong with that?”