Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The 1967 Australian National Lifesaving Championships, by Bob Burnside

(Photo above shows the '67 USA Team. Photo courtesy of Bob Burnside.)

("County Recurrent" is pleased to present to you, in two separate blog posts, the article written by Retired LACo Chief, Bob Burnside, with respect to the 1967 LACo Lifeguard Team that competed in New Zealand and Australia for several months. Reprinted here with permission. Photos courtesy of Bob Burnside.)

(Three photos above from '67 Tour Down Under, all Courtesy of Bob Burnside.)


As President of the USLA, I received an Invitation from the Australian National Assn. inviting their United States counterparts, to consider sending a 15 man American Team to tour Australia and participate in their 1967 National Championships. If we accepted, the New Zealand Assn. had expressed a desire for us to stop for a week in Auckland and partake in a similar schedule, while in route to Australia. There was a lot of excitement at our next board meeting and after lengthy discussion; it was voted that we accept the invitation. The months following were to determine where and how we would pick the team…it became a major focus of our weekly meetings. Finally, it was decided as to the composition of the team, and that a vote by all of the Board members, as to who would become the manager and the coach of the team, representing our National Association.

The delegates voted that I would head the Team as Manager and Rudy Kroon, a swimming coach at El Camino Junior College and a Santa Monica City seasonal beach lifeguard, would be the coach. I recommended to the Board of Directors that Chiefs Bud Stevenson of L.A.County, and Myron Cox of LA City, be invited to join the team as special emissaries, as a tribute to their many years of contribution to lifesaving…The motion was passed and they accepted. Australia was happy to add the additional bodies, with our acceptance of their Invitation. The California Lifeguards all competed for spots on the team…and after those that had qualified; all went into stringent training for the up coming two month tour.

It was a great experience and as Team Manager. I was giving speeches every day at every function, which seemed to never end. Fortunately, my classes in public speaking helped me fulfill these obligations when required. Our guests were always eager to hear from “The Yanks”... and I soon learned that they loved a joke or two and greatly appreciated recognition and praise about their Association and its outstanding public service.

When we left New Zealand, one of the “Kiwis” that we had competed against was in the finals, with another New Zealander, competing to see who would represent New Zealand in the upcoming Championships. They were racing in the belt race and the swimmer that was behind said...”I looked up to see where the buoy was and saw a huge fin moving directly toward my mate. I heard a horrible scream, the water became turbulent, and then there was frothy blood everywhere in the water... and my mate was gone !” A great white shark had attacked the lead swimmer and when they pulled the belt line in he was not attached and never recovered.

We had no knowledge of this until we arrived in Sydney. As we got off the plane the reporters were asking us about the incident and our thoughts. I responded with “a deep sorrow we felt for our “Kiwi” friends...but recognized that our line of work had many great dangers in it” That was all fine and dandy...but all of my swimmers were now scared to death, as shark attacks in California were unheard of. That night two of my swimmers approached me and stated that they had discussed the attack and the possible dangers...and they wanted their passports back so they could immediately fly home. I talked with our coach Rudy Kroon, and he was devastated...as the two were our best swimmers and the best chance we would have to make a strong finish in the upcoming events.

The prior years of “Politics now came to my needs”… I called them all back to hopefully change their minds. “Look guys!” I said… ”You know Rudy and I have been around the ocean for many years. The fact of an attack like this comes about when a white shark is stalking seals or other prey. It will always go for the weakest, which is the one that is generally trailing the others. In your swim events, there will be over twenty swimmers racing…and even if a shark is lurking in the water during the race…it will circle and attack the slowest swimmer in the rear of the group”… ”All you have to do is stay in the front of the group, all the way and never fall behind." They looked at me… and bought the whole story ……”sink, line, bait and hook!”.... Strangely enough, they went undefeated for the entire two months of the tour... They always were… ”OUT IN FRONT”

Rudy and I would laugh before the start of each ocean swim… ”Put your Jesus shoes on guys and rip”…

There are many stories about this trip that are just too numerous to tell… but here are a few quick ones…

We were at Kiama Beach, south of Sydney for an event. The surf was 15 ft. Ampol Oil Company, as a promotional stunt, had us tow an Aluminum Australian Surf Boat everywhere we went. We never raced it, as we didn’t row these crafts in the states. But there were a few of us that had many years of rowing experience in the American dory. An Aussie came up to me and asked if we were going to enter the surf boat race, noticing the 26 ft. Australian surf boat we had been towing... I told him “no way... that we really didn’t have a sweep oars man on our team …just some American dory men. Then, with a smile, he said… ”Mate, My name is “SPAZ”… and there ain’t no better sweep in Australia than I am, I’ll sweep for you if you want to enter.”… I called Rudy over, who was an excellent dory man himself to discuss the possibilities presented by the Aussie to me. Paul Mathies, who was traveling unofficially with the team… and who I had appointed as the teams equipment man to help us out and Jim Richardson, who also happened to be traveling with us unofficially was a dory man… and, of course, myself. We all agreed to jump in the Australian Surf Boat and give it a try. “Spaz”…said…“Go and advise the officials that you would like to enter…”BUT” ask them to seed you to the finals…”AND” tell them that you do not want to interfere with the other finalist boats at the start…so ask for the south start position near the rocks”… “Ok”, I said… and we were granted all of my requests. The Aussies were, of course, delighted to have the American Team seeded directly to the finals …recognizing that it would be a big crowd pleaser...particularly since the surf boat race was the most exciting and most popular event in Australia. Furthermore, they were pretty sure that we would come to a crashing end at the very start of the race… ”That never happened !”

The gun went off… and the other 6 boats launched as “Spaz” held us in the shallow water…Then he shouted …”now Yankees go like hell!” We rowed out along side the cliffs away from the on coming shore break, which was pounding the other 6 boats badly…out we went!… around the half way buoy far ahead of the closest boat… I thought to myself....”Christ… we’re going to win this race. In this Australian boat”...…I remember the rules that required all members of the boat as well as the boat itself “must arrive at the beach “all together” to win… So I am yelling at our Aussie Sweep… ”We got it won… lets play it cool and carefully row to victory”...But he had other ideas… and that’s why they called him “Spaz”… ”No way Yanks...we're going to catch this “Big Shelia” that’s coming at us and ride her right up their bloody asses. (Sheila referring to a big big female wave that was approaching … and “up their Bloody asses”…… referring to the officials on the beach that he disliked.”)

On his command to row… row we did!… and as we caught the huge wave… There were four “yanks” cowering around his legs, as he swept the craft perfectly toward the beach to a sandy first place finish.

We had stunned everyone… even our own Team. After that race… I refused to race again in the Australian Craft. It was to our advantage to leave Australia undefeated in their highlighted event… We had become the only non Australian surfboat crew to ever beat an Australian Team… and I was happy as hell to leave it that way !

(Photo above per Bob shows: “The Start of the Kiama Victory, with ‘Spaz” as the sweep”. Photo courtesy of Bob Burnside.)

( Cross-reference: Contemporary Kiama Surfboat photo and article on web:
http://bit.ly/S4mZr )

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The final story of interest and of Historical fact was during the National /International Championship finale.... and featured LACo Recurrent Spike Beck in a race with a result that has to date never been duplicated by another American !


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Many Thanks To Bob Burnside for sharing with us his story of the 1967 American Tour Down Under and for his spectacular photos !

(Photo above shows Bob gracing the cover of the USLA's magazine, American Lifeguard.)

(Photo above features Bob showing us how the dory is done in the American Ironman at a recent USLA Nationals.)


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