Monday, December 3, 2012

THE BEACH LIFEGUARDS, and that other sport", by Cal Porter

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THE BEACH LIFEGUARDS, and that other sport  

"The Los Angeles County Lifeguards are known the world over for their mastery and dominance in ocean aquatic competition.  When they enter that salt water arena it’s a rare day that a loss ensues.  They are expected to win and they do. 

Many years ago, almost sixty-five to be exact, a group of county guards competed in a different competition, one that was never held before and has never been held since.  It was the summer of 1948 and lifeguard forces from Santa Monica Bay to San Diego were challenged to send their best six-man, sand volleyball teams to a competition at the courts at Will Rogers, Santa Monica Canyon State Beach, to determine a grand champion.  It was all for fun, although we were pretty serious about it, and was to be held one afternoon and into the evening, followed by beach party food prepared by the ladies (and well, maybe just a little beer involved).  Representing LA County, our six man lifeguard team was amazingly composed of three sets of brothers, all working the Will Rogers area.  Our leaders were the Shargo Brothers, Nate and Sam, who had been given the title “Kings of the Beach” for their prowess in the sand doubles game from the middle 1930’s to the early 40’s.  I was lucky to have been assigned there as a permanent lifeguard in 1946 and played for years with the Shargos and the other top players that congregated there at this Mecca of beach volleyball. 

Sam second from left, Nate second from right, 1946
(Others: George McManus, Christy Miller, Ted Warren, Cal Porter, Bob Lee, John Dudrow)
In those days there weren’t the hundreds of volleyball courts along the beaches that are there today, and no tournaments that are played for thousands of dollars in prize money and televised around the world.  When I first played in the late 1930’s early 40’s there were just four public courts in all the north bay: the one alongside the old Ocean Park Pier where I mostly played, one at the Santa Monica Pier, another at Sorrento Beach, and the fourth at State Beach.  The others were scattered among the private beach clubs where sand volleyball first started in California.  It is said that famous swimmer and surfer Duke Kohanamoku introduced volleyball to the beach when he worked at the Santa Monica Beach Club in 1926.  He had played in the first sand game ever recorded at the Outrigger Canoe Club in Hawaii in 1915.  Where now there are dozens of courts at State Beach, for our tournament we put up a second court so two games could be played simultaneously.  I don’t remember how many teams entered.  There was the one from the Santa Monica Lifeguards, a couple from the LA City Guards, Long Beach Guards sent a team I believe, as did Huntington Beach and guard services further south.  Lots of spectators gathered for the occasion.  Our area Lifeguard Lieutenant, Mike Safonov, who had replaced the retiring Lt. Ted Warren, acted as host, and our one and only captain for the whole county in those days, Rusty Williams, was there to lend his support.  George McManus who had worked as a lifeguard since 1909 and was still guarding at this beach was there.  Many well known Hollywood actors and writers who called this their home beach and played volleyball with us were all there. 

Victory Was Ours

We practiced hard and long and we knew that we were ready now and the day had come and now it was our time.  Well, to make a long story short the group above survived the many elimination rounds and as the evening darkness approached they soundly beat the runner-up in the finals, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Top row above:  Jack Underwood, Ray Porter, Cal Porter, Don Underwood.
Bottom row:  Lt. Mike Safonov, Sam Shargo, Nate Shargo, Tarzan.
This photo made its way into history when it and the great victory were included in the classic, definitive volleyball book, “Sands of Time”, by Art Couvillon.   We were famous (for two or three minutes).

The tournament was never held again; the main reason being that the following year the Los Angeles City Lifeguards commenced operating this beach, and all of us volleyball playing L.A. County Lifeguards scattered north and south, most of us eventually to Zuma Beach.  

And what happened to our winning trophy?  Well it probably went down with the old lighthouse building up the beach a ways that was eventually torn down and had been our lifeguard headquarters where the trophy was on display and where it, the trophy, and the tournament are all now but a memory. 



*** Many Thanks to Cal for another great story.  All photos courtesy of Cal Porter. Used here with permission.


Until next time.....

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1 comment:

Mary-Margaret O'Brien said...

Nice surprise to see my Uncle Mike Safonov on your blog. Thank you for the picture.