Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Hurricane Liza - 1964", by Roger Smith

(The two photos above show the names of the Zuma lifeguards at the time of the story told herein by Roger Smith. These Zuma Crew longboards are on display along the stairwell at Zuma Lifeguard HQ. Both photos by Will Maguire.)

(Photo above courtesy of Bob Burnside showing Zuma Beach, circa 1960's. In the photo is the then youngster, Bobby Burnside, Jr. with Zuma Guard, Done Bane.)


Hurricane Liza - 1964, by Roger Smith

It was my second year as an ocean lifeguard at Zuma Beach. Becoming a lifeguard solved two major problems for me at the time. I got good pay and a place to live.

The County would let the guards live in the headquarters because Zuma was far out and hard to commute to. We had two places to stay, down or upstairs. Each area was a large room that had bunk beds in them. The bunks would always be inspected to see if they were made up properly with forty-five degree corners and tight. We had to be up and out by seven. The night guard worked until midnight, so we were all civil. But there was a lot of playing tricks on each other and we always had to be on guard. The kitchen was a favorite place to try and keep track of our food, and make sure it was edible when we needed it. One of the guards would sleep walk and he was a victim of a cold bucket of water as he walked along. The guards were from all walks of life. We had everyone from girl chasers to one guy who we called the “Reverend” Mr. Black.

My bunk was up stairs and one August night we all went to sleep and the night man went home. At day break the windows were shaking real bad. We could hear a crashing sound coming from the ocean, but could not see it because the fog was so heavy. As we stood there looking out the windows the fog started to thin. And there it was; the waves were so big it was hard to believe. All that you could see was one after the other in very long lines as they crashed on shore. The waves were from the south and we found out they were from a hurricane off of Baja, California. The permanent day crew came in and told us the waves were ten to fifteen feet and no big deal. I think they did not want to panic us, it was summer and the beach crowd would be on their way.

I was unlucky to be assigned the lifeguard station number one on that day and that is where the surf was the largest as it marched down the beach with great authority. You could feel the ground shake the tower. The waves were the largest on the beach, sometimes twenty foot walls. I did a lot of walking the shoreline; keeping people very close and advising them not to go very far out.

I was sitting on my chair at the tower when I looked to my right and saw a man in waist deep water, the current started to move him along the shore so I started down the beach in his direction. The man was picked up by the current and pulled into a rip current and raced out to sea. I knew I must try to get out to save him. I hit the water and was met by a pounding shore break and current. I worked my way out and was not in the same rip current that he was in and was met by the huge walls of water. So, as trained I decided to try and go under the waves. I went as deep as I could, but my rescue buoy would pull me back as the waves hit me and I could not touch the bottom to hold on. When I came up for air, the foam was so thick I could not take a breath with out sweeping my arms first. And then there was the next wave, and this went on for many times. I thought that I may never get out and I did not. When I got back on the beach the guard in station number two came down and was wondering what was I doing? He never saw the victim I was concerned about and never saw me because the foam was so heavy. So I went back to my station and called the headquarters, and they did not know about me either. I told them I saw a swimmer get dragged out to sea. So they sent the rescue boat on down off my station and sure enough they picked up my victim. They told me not to come out. They took him to Paradise Cove pier to drop him off back ashore, the rescue truck went to pick him up and bring him back to Zuma because it was just too dangerous to bring him back through the surf.

The rest of the day went okay as people were mostly scared to enter the water. The next day the surf was not as big but it continued to cause huge rip currents. I was more in the middle of the beach and was making so many rescues I never got back to my station all day. At the end of the day I had made over thirty rescues. The total number for Zuma was 437 rescues. This has been the record to this day.

The surf has not been that large in many years, the hurricanes have not developed in the same way as in the sixties. Of course the guards at Zuma just think we are just telling stories. But that record is still in those old log books.

Roger Smith - Zuma Lifeguard 1963.

Copyright 2011 Roger Smith. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission.


Wow! Many Thanks to Roger for sharing this great story from back in the day at Zuma Beach. Hopefully, this story will underscore the power of Mother Nature and the challenge we all face when we are presented with these kinds of daunting surf conditions.

And we also hope our other alumni will share their stories with us. We have alot of alumni, as well as active guards that are starving for content and lifeguard related stories. So step up. It is your individual and collective duty to inform and entertain your colleagues. Are you up to this obligation and challenge. We think so. So bring on your stories as we want to publish them. You retain all rights. We are not going to take credit for your stories or photographs. In fact, we want to promote and champion your victories and successes, as well as those of your colleagues.

("Zuma Beach". Photo by & Copyright Will Maguire 2010.)

p.s. and perhaps Chief Bob Burnside (Ret.) can fill us in on those forty-five degree corners on the bunk beds and the 0700 hour 'get the heck out of hq' rule. :-)


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

No comments: