Saturday, August 20, 2011

"ABC Wide World of Sports", by Roger Smith

Just in from LACo Lifeguard Captain (Ret.), Roger Smith, another gem of a story that is both gripping and action filled... for your reading enjoyment.


ABC Wide World of Sports
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

It was 1970 at Huntington Beach, California. Wide World of Sports was presenting the National Surf Dory Race Boat Competition. In the competition are there were twenty teams, all ocean lifeguards from along the coast, some traveling over a hundred miles to be in this competition.

There he was, Jim McKay, on a stage with television cameras on the beach, talking about the history on the surf boats and how the lifeguards used them to make rescues off shore before the motorized power boats replaced them. Now the lifeguards mainly use them for competition against each other.

There I was, along the shore, holding my dory in the lane after the draw was made. The surf was very large at times and cracked with great authority as the inshore current swept towards the very long fishing pier. The race was two laps around the pier; all of us knew it could get physically dangerous for us and we might lose our boats if we should slam against the pylons underneath.

I looked on down the line of boats; most of them were ones I had raced against all year. They were all members of the National Dory Boat Association. But the season was over now, it was September and this was the last race of the summer. I see my old partner Randy from the '69 season; he was only a few boats down the line from me. We were undefeated in that season and broke up to row the present season, we just could not agree on things and got new partners this year. Unfortunately he beat me in most of the races this year. I got third place over all. I think my new partner just did not have the killing aspect for competition, so I got another dory man I knew named Mike Buscher for this very special race. Maybe I will be able to show him who the best dory man is after all.

We were just a few minutes from starting the race, all of the bowmen were up at the starting line on tops of the berm in the soft sand. The gun went off and they came running down to get into the boat. As I pushed the boat off, I slid over the stern and slipped my oars out into the water and started rowing. Many of the boats were already running into each other as the lateral current swept them along the shore. I managed to stay clear of most of them and started to row through the surf. Some of the boats were getting too close to the pier and starting to collide. You could already hear the noise of some of the boats being damaged. The pier was loaded with spectators as we rowed toward the end and started to make our first turn left. I found myself in first place. Sure enough, as I looked back before making my second left turn to round the pier, I noticed my old rowing partner was running in second place. I had a good lead but I had to make a very important decision on where to come ashore to make my turn around on the beach. The shortest distance was next to the pier, but I would have to worry about hitting it and other boats as they came ashore. I did know that if the current was sweeping toward the side we started on, then in most cases the current would be sweeping offshore on this side. This could cut down on some of the waves that were coming in and I might be able to sneak back out. My ex-partner decided to row further up the beach where the surf was not as large, thus avoiding the other boats.

We were able to miss the other boats coming in through the surf as we rowed back out. We were about half way out along the pier when I heard the crowd yelling very loud. I looked around toward the sea and I saw the largest wave starting to curl at the top. I told my partner not to look around and to pull as hard as he could. The dory started to climb up the wave, I do not know how big it was but the dory is 20 feet long and we were straight up and down. The top of the wave proceeded to break into the boat, and it took all of the power we had to hold it in position until the water drained out the scupper holes on the sides. After several minutes of sheer terror we proceeded to row to the end of the pier to start our turns. Sure enough as I looked up the shore there was my old partner about one hundred yards behind. I thought, "No problem, I have enough lead to still finish first." As we headed for the finish line I kept yelling at my partner not to let up, and to keep pulling as hard as he could.

As we were only about a hundred yard off shore I looked back and saw my old partner starting to catch a swell that was developing into a wave. At first I did not think he was going to pull it off, he might broach and flip. But there he was dropping into the wave and the next thing I knew we were side by side on the same wave racing toward shore. As we got closer to shore we were getting our bowmen ready to have a foot race up the beach. The dory boats were now in the soup of the wave roaring toward the beach. As the water was getting shallower, I yelled at my bowman to stay in the boat until I told him to go. Just then the other bowman did not wait and jumped from their boat and landed in chest deep water. My bowman held off and landed in ankle deep water and sped up the beach to the finish line.

The victory was mine.


"ABC Wide World of Sports", Copyright 2010 Roger Smith. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission.

Wow! How's that for edge of the seat excitement!? This story and others are featured in Rogers self published book entitled, September, named after his 41'sailing ketch built by Islander Yachts in 1975.

Roger was born in Los Angeles in 1944 and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He was recognized as the "Athlete of the Year" his senior year in high school as a swimmer. He later swam at Valley College and that is when he took the LACo Ocean Lifeguard test after responding to then Lieutenant Burnside's swim meet campaigning for talent. Later he married his high school sweetheart, Linda, to whom he is still happily married. He next became a Santa Monica City permanent beach lifeguard and worked with Tom Zahn on the rescue boat. Later he returned to LACo and operated rescues boats for them and becoming, along with John Stonier, the first ever Paramedic-Lifeguards. Roger also became a hyperbaric chamber treatment supervisor at the USC Facility on Catalina Island.

(Photo of Paramedic-Lifeguard, Roger Smith, circa 1990's, courtesy of Roger Smith.)

Roger retired in 1999 after over 36 years of service as a lifeguard for L.A. County. Roger and Linda now live in Oakhurst, California and Rogers says he is very happy living in the mountains.

Many Thanks to Roger for sharing yet another great story with all of us. The challenge is still on for a great many of our alumni, who avidly soak up and enjoy these stories, to contribute a story of their own for publication on "County Recurrent". Pay it forward. We need your participation to keep this dialogue going. So bring it on!


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

*** *** ***


Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...

Great story! Things aren't like that today. Thank you Roger for teaching me your rowing skills. I never measured up but I had a lot of fun rowing dories! Thank you for a great story.