Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Old Lifeguards Never Die They Just Row Away", by Bill Hinkle

We recently heard from one of our retired L.A. City Beach Lifeguards, namely, Bill Hinkle.  All you dory guys and gals will be especially stoked with this story... so pay attention!  :-)

Bill Hinkle in his "One Man Dory" cruising along in Channel Islands Harbor.  Photo courtesy of Bill Hinkle.

Subject:     one man dory
Date:     April 29, 2013 2:13:44 PM PDT
From:  Bill Hinkle


"I'm an old LA City guard who decided I needed to do some cardio that didn't involve the pounding that running does to our aging knees.  Rowing dories was always enjoyable but the two man is just too much work.  I finally located plans for a one man boat that looked like just the right thing.  A paddleboard buddy from the old days, Bill Bragg, and I built the boat in my garage.  In the attached picture, I'm enjoying our efforts.  It's a blast to row."

Bill Hinkle


Well, we were so stoked to see Bill's sweet one man sled and to hear about his rowing that we had to know more and so we asked.... and here's what else Bill had to say:

"Regarding the fun associated with rowing:  In my opinion, neither rowing nor, for that matter, running are fun.  Surfing is fun.  Surfing big waves is really fun. Skiing along with sky diving are also fun.  Rowing doesn't provide the adrenaline junkie hit that you get from surfing and the like.  On the other hand, there is nothing quite like the emotional high that can be achieved while powering a boat across the mirror like waters of the bay in the early morning.  You can feel the boat accelerate with each stoke of your oars.  You can hear the gurgle of the water and see the turbulence of your wake bubble behind you in a perfect v.  You set your pace so that you are breathing hard but not too hard.  Your muscles work in perfect rhythm and your perspiration acts to cool the machine that your body becomes.  Do I enjoy rowing.  Why yes, I do."

Sure.  Go ahead and forward my e-mails, post my remarks and the photo.  No worries. As far as a bio.  I went through rookie school with the City of LA in 1956.  I worked Venice and Del Rey for the first three years and then went into the army (by invitation).  I came back to the beach and worked as an intermittent guard until I took the permanency test in 1965.  I worked Will Rogers, Venice, Del Rey and Cabrillo during that time period.

I asked to be assigned to guard Harbor Lake, out of Cabrillo Beach, when I became permanent.  I don't know how it is now, but back then it was a true anomaly. The tower sat forlornly across the street from Kaiser Harbor City.  Swimming was not allowed and virtually no one came to use the facility during the week except fishermen.  I had weekends off.  Candidly, I was going to law school at night and it was the perfect place to study.

It was at Cabrillo Beach that I really got into rowing dories.  Joe Reinich and I campaigned for three summers and had some great races.  Back in those days, White and Hodgert from State completely dominated rowing.  They just never lost.  Not even the surf races.  Joe and I were mostly middle of the packers but we still trained and raced hard. 

You ask about contemporaries.  Great memories. Hal Dunnigan and Eddie Hoffman were my mentors and two guys I have always admired.  In no particular order but apologizing for those I haven't included, Sean Holland, Ron Riddle, Bob Berson, Don Rohrer, Bill O'Sullivan, Ed Perry, Conrad Liberty, Dick Heineman, Bruce Maurer, and Len Green.  Of course, all the Pedro guys, the Williams brothers, Pappas brothers, Burich, Sampson and Adamson have to be included. Eli Guana and I not only lifeguarded together but I was two years behind him at Southwestern.

The most memorable lifeguard I ever worked with was Larry Stevenson at Venice.  I'm speaking strictly in terms of life guarding excellence.  Back in the late 50's the stretch of the beach between the Breakwater and Avenue 21 had a truly frightening shore break and vicious gutter rips when the surf was up. Stevenson guarded Tower 18.  In those conditions he was like Brer Rabbit in the brier patch.  One of his favorite moves was to backstroke into a 10' sand buster with a victim trailing behind on his rescue tube.  Just before the monster could smash him into the wet sand below, the pull of his victim would suck him back into the wave.  After the wave broke and its energy was depleted, he would be left standing on the sand with his victim.  I wish I had words to describe how incredibly good he was.  None of the rest of us ever attempted some of the things he routinely pulled off.

I was working next to him one day when the surf was really up.  A young boy, maybe 9 or 10 got swept sideways into a raging gutter rip.  He went out through the shore break with me closing in behind him.  I was about 10 yards away when he went down.  He was gone.  There was no bobbing back up.  The current was swirling and there was zero visibility.  I swam to where I thought he went down, jack knifed and went down with my hands out in front of me.  Miracle of miracles, my right hand came into contact with one of his wrists.  I've often thought about how close I came to losing him.  We were just lucky.

Truth be told, I became a beach lifeguard by accident.  A swim team buddy of mine from Valley JC called me up and asked how I would like to be a pool guard. I had worked the previous summer washing test tubes and beakers for a clinical lab in the San Fernando Valley so life guarding sounded pretty good.  We went to the Coliseum swim stadium to take the pool guard test one spring day.  While I was filling out my application, it cost a dollar to test, I noticed that the brochures for beach guard were posted next to the pool guard brochures.  Pool guards salaries were posted at $1.56 per hour while the beach was listed at $1.91, a no brainer.  A quick read disclosed that the requirements were virtually the same with the exception that you had to swim a 1000 meters for the beach and only 400 meters for the pool.  I asked the lady taking the applications if I could fill out two applications, pay $2 and have them start two watches on me.  No problem according to her.  My buddy, Fred Held, and I took the blocks together and then we were off.  At 350 I had him by about a body length but he sprinted past me and touched me out at the wall.  I was bummed and started to get out of the water. My timer, Nibs Goldsmith, pretty much ordered me to keep swimming.  I lazed out the final 600 meters and we went home.  Fred only swam the 400.  About a month later I got a call from Fred.  "Did you get your notice to report for in service training", he asked?  No.  I was really disappointed.  I hadn't been fast enough to get on either of the two services.  Two days later I got a post card.  "Report to 2100 Ocean Front Walk for in service training to be a beach lifeguard."  That summer I was on the beach while Fred guarded the Fernangelous Wading Pool in Pacoima."

That's all I got Will.

Bill Hinkle


(Story by & Copyright Bill Hinkle 2013.  Published here with permission.)

*** Many Thanks to Bill for sharing his photo of his 'one man dory' and for sharing very generously in his remarks about rowing and his years as an L.A. City beach lifeguard, both as a recurrent and a permanent.  And the fellow legendary lifeguards and watermen that he worked with !  Wow!***

Once again, we ask our readership to join us and share a story with our readership, your lifeguard colleagues.  You can use Bill's remarks as a template, as a matter of fact.  Nudge, nudge! 


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

Service • Training • Commitment

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