Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Just Another Rescue??

If you were wondering when we were going to publish another Cal Porter story, wonder no more! Here is a great rescue story! Enjoy!


It was the summer of 1952, maybe 1953. I had finished the County Lifeguard night shift at Zuma Beach, and after breakfast at home I headed for the private beach at Malibu Colony where I would give swimming lessons and then lifeguard there for the day. The gate-guarded Colony was a pleasant place to work, teaching eager kids to swim, watching over them in the ocean, and organizing activities for them, volleyball, sand games, water sports. And then, as a bonus, there was always the occasional movie star that would stop by to sit and chat. This particular day was much like any other day there, sunny and warm, a good day for swimming. The surf had increased a bit from previous days, but nothing at all treacherous. Of course there was the occasional rescue to be made here on this beach, usually a child whose bravery outstripped his swimming ability; nothing on the order of the churning, rip tide rescues of Zuma Beach. The lifeguard sat on the sand or on a beach chair, and under an umbrella if needed, much like any other beach goer on this very private stretch of sand. And it wasn’t unusual around noon time to welcome an offer from a nice resident of a gourmet sandwich and a cold drink of some kind for lunch break, usually served by the maid, of course. A most pleasant place to work.

The Colony

There was only one doctor in Malibu in those days, almost sixty years ago. Most people traveled to Santa Monica or Los Angeles for medical or dental care. Doctor Peter Salisbury lived in the Colony and his office was nearby. He would take any patients who came to him with their usual great variety of complaints but he was mainly a medical research genius and cardiologist, but he turned no one away. The doctor would often take a short mid-morning workout swim, never venturing far from shore or overestimating his swimming capabilities. But this day was going to be different, he had his eye on those rocks protruding from the sea some distance out, beckoning to him to give it a try. It wasn’t really a long swim but I had never seen him attempt to swim that far out before. Locals referred to these rocks as “Old Joe’s” named for a long time surfer and resident of the Colony. I frequently visited the rocks myself in the early morning hours where I would dive down to a couple of my favorite, narrow caves on the ocean floor to pick up a lobster or two for a family dinner or to deliver to a resident who had requested the tasty crustaceans. But the doctor never came close to swimming that far, but now there he was, on his way. I watched him carefully since the surf was picking up considerably after he managed to swim out there during a lull. He never reached the rocks. Somewhat short of that destination he turned back towards shore starting to look tired, and now I was up and on my way. You don’t want to embarrass a swimmer who doesn’t need your help but he was going to need help. When I reached him the doc was in panic mode, tired, dog paddling and flailing about in an attempt to keep his head above water. I got to him with the rescue float and hung onto him while he calmed down and caught his breath, and then I told him to hold on to the ropes as tight as he could while I towed him back through the breaking surf to the beach. He sat on the dry sand for some time resting, then I walked with him back toward the houses where he said he thought he could make it home from there. He had said very little that day but the next day he appeared at my lifeguard post, said thank you, and handed me twenty-five dollars (about two or three hundred in today’s money). I explained that I couldn’t accept the money, that I was paid as a lifeguard to do the job. He said something to the effect that I would have to throw it in the ocean then because he was not taking it back. He turned and headed back toward the houses. Okay, just another routine rescue, nothing spectacular, end of story. Or was it?

From the arrow to the rocks, the attempted swim.

Now the rest of the story. It is sixty years later, and the year is 2011. On the computer’s “Facebook” the doctor’s daughter, Ann, who was a tiny girl at the time of the rescue, inserted an old photo of her father taken on the beach about that time. By accident I ran across the photo, and then below, where comments can be made, I briefly mentioned that I had one time brought him back to the beach when he swam out too far. Well that started it. Her first and immediate comment back to me after she read my statement was as follows:

“WOWWOWWOWWOWWOWWOW!”. Six Wows. She knew all about the rescue but she was very young at the time and always wondered but never knew who the lifeguard was during all those ensuing years. We began to comment back and forth on Facebook at some length for many days about the incident, and then I made another contact with her to see if it would be alright if I used actual names and some of her quotes in this little story, instead of just paraphrasing, which would then allow me to proceed with the following to go along with the six “wows”. Of course, Ann said.

“I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to connect with the man who saved my dad. I know for a fact that he could not have made it back to shore without you”. “This touches my heart, Cal. If it weren’t for you, I might not have had my dad with me until he died when I was sixteen”. “He had invented the artificial heart-lung and artificial kidney machines. So you didn’t just save the life of one man or one father, but probably hundreds of thousands of others whose lives are being prolonged today via dialysis. Cal, thanks from the bottom of my heart”.

How does that make an ancient, eighty-seven year old lifeguard feel? Hey, not too bad!

Cal Porter


"Just Another Rescue", by Cal Porter. Copyright Cal Porter 2011. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission. Photos courtesy of Cal Porter.

Many Thanks to Cal for continuing to share wonderful stories for all of us to enjoy! And we still want to tell other guards rescue stories, so bring 'em on !


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

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spike said...

fanfanfanfantastic. a great story, well told.

beachgal said...

Wonderful story - we have been so lucky to have the likes of Cal and many other area life guards looking out for us as we attempted to be brave and took on too much in our water adventures!