Thursday, September 27, 2012



The Premise

I’m not sure how long it takes, how many years are involved, but it happens to almost all of us.  And it’s this:  If we work a lengthy period of time lifeguarding on the beach, spending those countless hours concentrating, with eyes fixed on watching the water and making numerous rescues, something is etched into our minds that we have no control over, something indelible, and here’s what it amounts to: We have now been hooked and reeled in, we have been brainwashed, we are lifeguards forever.  Oh, you can leave beach lifeguarding, go on to other jobs, other pursuits, but it’s always there if you lifeguarded long enough, it’s not going to leave you.  From now on whenever you find yourself around a body of water, be it a lake, a river or stream, a pool, or the ocean up and down any coast, and there are swimmers out there, it will kick in, it’s automatic, you’re right back to “watching the water”.  You can be somewhere by the water just having a fine old time, but then wait a minute, is that kid over there too far out, is that lady okay?  You know that feeling, you’re always on duty.  And you can even be sitting on a well-guarded beach minding your own business when suddenly, whoa!! That guy needs help, he’s caught in a rip, where’s my rescue can; again it’s an automatic reflex.  Ah, but relax , there he goes, the nearby lifeguard is on it, he’s out of his tower and running full speed for the water, stop worrying. 

Off for a nice rip rescue. Photo by and Copyright Nick Steers. Used here with permission.
The Examples

I’m sure these experiences of mine are no more significant or different from those of other present or former lifeguards who have spent a lot of time watching the water.   I am eighty-eight years old now and I retired from the L.A. County Lifeguards in 1976, thirty-six years ago after guarding for thirty-seven years; and also after a long stretch of being a public school principal.  So here are just a couple of experiences happening when I was not on duty as a guard; there are plenty more, and I’m sure others can come up with more exciting ones.

1.  Steve Morgan and I were sitting on the private beach near where I live in Malibu after a surfing session on some pretty sizable stuff.  Steve is seventy, an L.A. County Guard for over fifty years and still doing it.  This was a few years back on a day of big surf with a strong lateral current running.  Three young ladies of very poor swimming ability were out over their heads and suddenly were being pulled relentlessly toward disaster and the finger reef that angles out from the beach.  Not a word was spoken as Steve and I just took one look at each other and then jumped to our feet on a dead run.  Steve swam and I grabbed and paddled my board since there were three of them and we had no rescue equipment.   We reached them after bucking some pretty good whitewater and they grabbed the board for dear life and we managed to get them out beyond and past the reef and then eventually back to the beach some distance down the shore.  They were shaken but okay.  No one on the beach saw or was aware that anything had happened.

Triple Rescue Site. Photo by & Copyright Cal Porter. Used here with permission.

2.  Crystal Lake is high in the San Gabriel Mountains , about 7000 feet, a beautiful spot.  I took my family up for the day.  There were a number of kids in the lake, no lifeguards, and of course, as usual, you can’t help it, you’re “watching the water”.  After a while a little girl got out too far, was over her head, and started the familiar non swimmer, straight up and down dog paddle, with face and mouth barely above water.  I took off, swam to her, and with the famous cross chest carry, side stroked her back to the beach.  She was shook up, about to cry, and I asked the whereabouts of her parents.  There they were, nearby, eating lunch and playing cards with another couple, backs to the water.  They looked up as we approached and said what happened?  I said oh your daughter got out a little too far, I’ll let her tell you about it, and left.  A thank you was not forthcoming.

Crystal Lake. Photo by & Copyright Cal Porter. All Rights Reserved.
3.  I’m not sure Jan had ever been on a surfboard before, but what a day she picked to take a paddle.  Double overhead stuff had been pushing through all morning and she arrives during a lull, dead calm and peaceful looking.  I’m out alone in the lineup; the other two surfers had caught waves and were on the beach ready to paddle back out.  Jan starts out toward me, all set for a leisurely paddle and maybe a two foot wave to practice on.  As she approaches I see the set of the day far, far outside on the horizon.  We’re both going to get caught inside.  I holler at her, “Jan, paddle for your life straight out as fast as you can”.  And then, almost, but we didn’t make it over the oncoming crusher.  Up the crest and back over the falls for the long drop.  She came up sputtering and panicky, not even close to ever being in a situation like this before.  I told her I would stay with her and we would make it in but we were going to be hit with a whole series of these fast following waves, maybe bigger.  Each time she came up she had that look like this is it, but I would push her board to her to hang on and then stay with her until we were hit again.  There must have been a dozen waves in that set but we finally washed onto shore far down the beach.  Jan lay there on the sand for a long time trying to get her breath but she was going to be okay.  In the distance I  saw her boyfriend coming down the trail to the beach so I left her there for him and went back up the beach to go back in the water.  Later when I was on the beach the boyfriend paddled out to where the two surfers were.  He said to them that Jan was beat and tired, but it was very lucky that guy on the beach was there to rescue her and get her safely to the beach.  The two surfers took one look at each other and said, “That guy on the beach is over eighty years old.  ("Once a lifeguard, always a lifeguard.")


*** Thanks Cal !  Words cannot express how grateful we are for your continuing contributions to our tribe of ocean lifeguards.  And we again ask our alumni and active lifeguards to help us post content for our collective to read and enjoy.  There are many stories and lessons to be told and if you receive and enjoy the stories posted on this blog and have not contributed yet, please consider doing so.  And lest you were not paying attention, you've been challenged by Cal himself when he said above, "...and I’m sure others can come up with more exciting ones."   So bring it on, and put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard.  It's time to share a story.  Thanks for your consideration.

("Always A Lifeguard", story by and Copyright 2012 Cal Porter. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission.)


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