Friday, December 19, 2008

The 1981 Wieland-Shield: Then And Now

L-R, Front: Danny Katayama, Gary Crum, Nino Duccini, Buddy Bohn.
L-R, Back: Mark Keller, Greg Pfeifer, Alf Laws, Brooks Bennett, Bill Mount, George Lowerre.
Photo/team member names courtesy of Buddy Bohn.

In the winter of 1981, a predominantly LACo team of lifeguard competitors traveled to Australia to compete in the Wieland Shield Surf Lifesaving Competition. Above is a photo of the members of this team. This historical review of this competition will provide comments from several of these team members and will focus on what they remember of this trip down under and what it means to them today. This retrospective is not intended to be comprehensive. In fact, we are hopeful that we can add comments from other members of the team as time goes by. We will begin with our first contributor, the legendary Bill Mount.

1. Bill Mount:

"Then I was old - the oldest guy on the team - and I always thought Greg Pfieffer was the youngest so they put us together every where we stayed so we could temper each other. It was on that trip that we discovered we were neighbors on Frazer Street behind St Monica Station 25. I lived with a couple UCLA college buddies and he lived with his parents, (because he was barely out of diapers.) I had known him as a lifeguard in '81, but never made the connection that he was that little kid next door in the sixties.

Now I am older - we both work the Northern Section and were assigned as partners on a call car for a night drill tonight. Greg's amazing - he's still making the Taplin swim team - I am still trying to make the paddle team (still trying, but not getting any closer).

That trip in 1981 was a blast. The photo is a blast from the past. Thanks for resurrecting it.

-Bill Mount"

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2. Buddy Bohn:

"We had a great team with a lot of depth and experience. We worked very hard to raise the money and sponsorships for the ’81 Wieland Shield Team. We were the first event (Surf Movie) held at the newly renovated Hermosa Beach Community center (the old Pier Ave. School). TRW and Continental Airlines helped to sponsor as well. Every south bay chamber of commerce gave us swag to hand out and a local wetsuit company gave us product for a garage (SSH) sale fund raiser. We held several parties and raffles where many lifeguards attended and contributed to the teams many expenses.

The team was invited and toured New Zealand’s north island Auckland area beaches such as Piha and Mangawai Heads surf lifesaving clubs. We were billeted out with the friends and family of Paul Johnson who was then president of the Mangawai club. Our idea was to get as much training and team building as possible before heading on to Victoria, Australia and the Shield competition. I was able to connect with several of the New Zealand team members who attended the World Lifesaving Congress of 1979 in Newport Beach when I was on the USA team. Gary and I also connected with the Kiwi’s we had hosted in L.A. the next year. All in all, the team came together in Auckland and we were treated as guests of honor while we preached about Professional Lifeguarding in L.A. County. We had some friendly competition, good surfing and great camaraderie.

We then traveled to Melbourne, Victoria and State Centre SLSA as their guests of honor where we attended many official functions and photo ops to satisfy the Australian sponsors. We’ll all remember traveling in vans for hours to make a brief appearance and then pack back in and drive for hours, all away from the coast where we wanted to train and surf. The highlight of these road trips were the Aussie sponsors Big-M (the national milk board) and their Big-M girls who strutted around in the smallest swim suits any of us had seen up to that point. The dark side of these long frustrating hours in the van was that mutiny was a distinct possibility and I remember Gary trying to keep Nino and me from choking each other out. My memory is a little fuzzy on some of these shaky moments, repressed memory I think. Kevin Roderick was our guide and host who never tired of our windge’in, sniveling, and general discontent with too much road and not enough ocean. We were convinced it was an Aussie plot.

We finally got to the coast and all was well with the world, good surf, competition and friends. Our hosts were very generous and held big surf club dinners at each surf club we toured. The club ladies had obviously baked for days and their hospitality was legendary. During this leg of the tour we were again billeted out in the club member’s homes which were often a great distance away. Their common response when asked where they lived would be “just down the road”, which could mean anywhere from a couple kilometers to many many kilometers. You never knew until you were on your way and road slipped away and the time dragged on. Don’t worry mate, it’s just down the road! I remember Bill had used an American slang word in a conversation with this very proper club hostess and when we explained the Aussie’s use of the same slang but with a quite different meaning, he insisted we drive back so he could apologize and reestablish his honor. We didn’t go back. I also remember why we put Bill with Greg, he was the picture of morality in need of a disciple, and I’m a believer in osmosis.

The days of the Shield came and we performed very well although losing the competition by a slim margin, but there were so many great races and individual standouts. Nino got off his death bed to blow doors in the surf race, another of his legendary psych-up performances. I think this was one of the last shields that had so may sand events, like run relays, run sprints and beach flags. In those days we’d have to use the ski while in Oz and they would have to row the dory while in the USA. The international standard for paddleboards still hadn’t been established either. The USA paddle 11’6’’ heavy boards and the Aussie used their “Mal’s” 10’6” which were 15 pounds or so. Today we use that 10’^’ standard.

The summers in Victoria are famous for radical weather changes and they are apt to say that if you don’t like the whether, just wait twenty-four hours. In other words one day would be laser beam hot and the next day you’d be wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags. You have to remember we are down under in January and February when we have no tan, looking fish belly white and primed for the sun burn of a lifetime. The team made a positive impact on our hosts and many lifetime friendships were forged. Some of the influences we left behind were the development of a seasonal professional lifeguard system managed by State Center to augment the clubs volunteer schedule. The building of L.A.Co. Style wooden lifeguard towers with a centralized communications system. What we brought away from this educational exchange was the value of corporate sponsorships to fund our services and the value of promoting the highest level of surf lifesaving competition to show case not only our lifesaving prowess but give a positive association with said sponsors. What this spawned was our relationship with Frank Suddoth of Plough Industries and Coppertone sponsoring all the trash barrels in L.A.Co. With a Coppertone logo on each barrel. Ken Johnson of Beaches and Harbors was the guy who was able to convert our lesson down under into reality; next came our vehicles. The promotion of our competitions and showcasing our departmental sponsors was soon taken on by one of our own entrepreneurial lifeguards, Scott Hubbell and the Bud Light Ocean Festivals.

Shortly after the Shield several of our team returned to the USA, one due to illness and the others because a national strike was threatening to close down much of the nations labor services, like air travel. We bid our mates farewell and continued on to Queensland as planned.

The team arrived in Brisbane and was received and guided by Kevin Hoskins who took personal charge of our teams well being. Our first stop was Queensland State Centre and re-introductions with one of our oldest Aussie friends, Jack McMaster’s their head administrator. Jack had toured with an all ASLSA team hosted in LACo in the 1960’s. We then toured the Gold Coast and were billeted by the Northcliffe Club. We then competed in their state championships with a much smaller team but one not lacking in enthusiasm and skill. Danny Katayama, Greg Pfeiffer and Mark Keller were crowd standouts. After a very positive impact on the Gold Coast, Kevin took us down to the Sunshine Coast where we toured Alexandra Headlands with our friend Hayden Kenney and then on to Noosa where we had a great trip out and around the park headlands and surfing at Tea Tree. The Noosa SLSC hosted us and we were able to witness the early development on Sunshine Beach which now has its own surf club and custom homes that cover the sweeping ocean view hillside. I remember George Lowerre and I standing on a virtually barren Sunshine hill side looking over a real estate flyer of this future subdivision and fantasizing about buying the best ocean view lot, which was huge, for 100k; its worth millions now.

The Queenslanders had gone out of their way to make our stay memorable and it wouldn’t be too long before we’d host a thirty man team from Queensland in L.A.Co. They too were looking for a way to professionalize lifeguarding to assist their volunteers around their state. Our ’81 tour was officially wrapped up and the last members headed back home, while a few lingered a bit and a few took in another round in New Zealand. The experience of a life time; significant in promoting lifesaving along side friendly competition, we established lifetime friendships and bonds between our two countries.

Aloha, Buddy Bohn"

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3. Greg Pfeifer:

"Yeah Mark Keller and I were the youngest guys on the team, we were 20. Alf and George were really old back then--like 32 or 33, and Bill was the old man of the sea--he was like 34 or 35!

I had finished my second year of swimming for John Joseph at Santa Monica College and had been recruited to swim at San Diego State in the fall. I was registered for my classes and everything, but then I ended making the Wieland Shield team. The trip was right in the middle of the semester and swim season so I ended up taking the year off from school and trained another season with J.J. at S.M.C.

I was in great shape and was confident I'd do well in the competition because I have always preferred saltwater and surf to chlorine and flip turns! I was also young and, as J.J. would say, "full of piss and vinegar!" When we got to Australia I just wanted to surf, party and drink beer! Because of this I didn't quite see eye to eye with our "coach" Gary Crum. We butted heads a number of times.

They had me room with Bill because he was everything I wasn't--a mature, mellow, family man and Christian, but we actually hit it off quite well. About 25 years later Bill retired as the Assistant Chief of the Culver City Fire Dept. and took a summer schedule opening for me at Malibu. Neither of us ever thought the little kid who lived next door to him on Fraser St. in 1964 and the wild rebel of the 1981 Wieland Shield would someday be his supervisor! Of course he did a great job and is now enjoying his second career as a permanent lifeguard. You know what they say "60 is the new 40!"

I remember competing in the belt race and surf race in the Queensland State Championships on this trip. The surf was big, Hawaiian 10-12 feet, triple to quadruple overheard. The current was raging. Boards and ski were breaking left and right. Surfboats were crashing and burning. I made it to the finals of the surf race and Bill made to the finals of the Malibu board race. The young guys working the beach now don't realize what a stud Bill is!

Looking back, almost 28 years, this was my first of many trips overseas and I did learn a lot. I have changed a lot since then, the world has changed a lot since then, and lifeguarding has changed a lot since then! Change is a good thing!"

Aloha, Greg

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4. Alfred Laws

"Hi Will just got home (from Mexico) – too many dead brain cells... can’t remember a thing. Get something to you soon. Alf"

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Editor's note: Many Thanks to Buddy, Bill, Greg and Alf for their contributions and support of this effort to share their trip down under with their County Recurrent colleagues.

For the results of the past Wieland-Shield Events from 1967 - 2007, please see the following link:

That's it for now. The readership is requested to forward this to any other members of the '81 team they are in touch with to see if they would like to add to this commemorative and retrospective effort.

Until next time,

Will Maguire
"County Recurrent" News

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