Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"An Early Rescue", by Cal Porter

We know you're all smacking your lips in anticipation of another Cal Porter story.... so here it is!


                                       AN EARLY RESCUE

It’s called Dockweiler State Beach now, renamed in 1955 for the late, prominent lawyer and civic leader Isadore Dockweiler, whose name was put forth by the then California Governor, Goodwin Knight.  Dockweiler had little to do with the beach but he was an important politician in the first half of the 1900’s, and in fact he was known at the time as “The Democratic Party of California”.  And he did father thirteen children which is quite an accomplishment in itself.  Back when I was a kid growing up on the beach there, some eighty years ago in the 1920’s and 1930’s, it was known as Surfridge Beach since the residential area overlooking the beach where I lived was called Surfridge Estates, which in turn was a part of Playa del Rey.  It was also known as Moonstone Beach for the abundance of semi-precious pebbles that could be found there. 

    The Pacific Electric streetcar brought people from inland to our beach in the 1930’s.
Unlike the wide expanse of sandy beach that is there today, this photo shows the narrow strip that was there back then when the ocean abounded with much greater waves for swimming and surfing than is seen now.  The beach at our house was some distance south of this photo and seldom drew even this sparse Sunday crowd; it was usually just my two brothers and I, our friends, and maybe a couple of neighbors.   The lifeguard force for the beaches was started in the late 1920’s but the guards were mostly stationed on the crowded stretches of Venice Beach, Ocean Park and down at Hermosa with only an occasional patrol down our way on the road above the beach; we seldom saw a lifeguard.  It would be a great many years later before a tower and summer guard would be on hand.  We swam and surfed daily on our beach in the summer months and almost daily in the winter.  After a while our non-swimmer mother gradually stopped worrying about us as she watched us from the front window in our home above the beach swimming, paddling, rowing, and disappearing far out to sea on all kinds of boards, boats, and homemade floating contraptions.  And no lifeguards to tell us not to do stuff like that.
                          Early 1930’s lifeguards with emergency call car

My best school pal, Bob, lived on Caroll Canal in Venice about ten miles north.  On school days my dad, on his way to his office in Los Angeles, often dropped me off at Bob’s house.  From there we would paddle and pole our way down the canal system on his homemade raft ending up on time right behind our school, Florence Nightingale Elementary; a lot of fun unless the raft tipped and you fell overboard (it happened to me in my school clothes).  I was at his house a lot but he was seldom at mine since it was a long bike ride and he didn’t have a father to drive him, and I don’t remember that his mother even owned a car.  On this particular Saturday I convinced him to get on that bike and we would have a great time all day on the beach and in the water.   I knew nothing about his swimming ability but since he lived just a block from the ocean I assumed he was probably in the water a lot just like we were.  I guess Bob and I were about eleven or twelve years old, maybe fifth or sixth graders.  Anyway, he made the trip and we first explored the nearby sand dunes for a couple of hours looking for snakes, coyotes and such and then decided it was time to head for the beach for a cool-off swim.  There were some fine little waves breaking that day, no double overheads or anything like that, but good enough.  We splashed about awhile and then I moved on out a ways and picked up a couple of nice body surfing waves passing by Bob each time where he was still standing in chest deep water.  As I headed back out after the second ride I noticed Bob was further out now and in over-the-head water.   There was a bit of an off shore flow running, a very minor rip tide, certainly not one of those white water terrors by any means.  I thought Bob had moved on out there to position himself for a ride, but far from it, he was floundering and dog paddling straight up and down and looking like, “how did I get way out here?”  I swam to him and said, “Hey, are you ok, can you swim in?”  He sputtered that he could barely swim at all, which suddenly became obvious to me, and besides he was starting to panic.  Now this was no great, heroic rescue, the water was about a foot over his head.  I just propelled him  by swimming and pushing against him and going down to the ocean floor with my feet to get a push off the bottom to keep his head above water.  It took a while but I was able to move him out of the little rip current back into the surf zone where I knew the waves would give us some momentum toward shallow water.  When he finally got his feet on the bottom and his head above water he was going to be okay.  Once on shore Bob thanked me but I assured him he would have made it on his own.  But in truth I felt pretty good about it. 

Bob passed away some years back; I think he was about eighty.  He lived in Malibu and I would see him from time to time, and occasionally he would bring up the subject of that day so long ago and we would have a good laugh about it.   I worked as a beach lifeguard for thirty-seven years, and from time to time I worked the very spot of that little, long ago rescue.  It is now Dockweiller State Beach, Lifeguard Towers 49 and 50.  

And there’s always a lifeguard on duty. 


("An Early Rescue", by and Copyright Cal Porter 2013.  All Rights Reserved.  Photos courtesy of Cal.)

***  Thanks Cal !  If you keep writing we will keep publishing !  And perhaps some of our readership will step up and send us some rescue stories of their own to share.... hopefully.


Until next time.....

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