Dear Reader,

In 2006, we called the San Clemente Lifeguard Service to ask about their 75th reunion. During the conversation with Sarah, she asked if we would write a "blurb" for their reunion. We said we would be happy to but would need to call some old timers for ideas - if any of them were still around. Sarah (whose parents, we are sure, were not even a twinkle in anyone's eye when we were guarding and surfing) said, "Oh no, just write what you remember, it will be fine." We did call Hal Sachs and what you are about to read is the result of two very old memories. There will be a lot of names that will be meaningless to you, but hopefully the stories and comments associated with them will give a "picture of the culture and times of those years on the beach. By the way, many of those old names can still be found on those same beaches but there are fewer each year. Since first writing this, we have had so many positive responses and some offering corrections and suggestions that we have had to revise it slightly several times - we guess our memories were as faulty as we believed, so don't hesitate to offer your thoughts if you feel the urge. Most of this is about surfing and guarding and the beach. However, there are a few personal stories you may enjoy; they do provide some insight into our generation and life during those times. With respect for your time, we understand if you skip through and focus primarily on those paragraphs about lifeguarding or surfing on the beach.

We recently (2010) had the good fortune to meet Dick Metz, the founder of the Herigage Surfing Museum in San Clemente. He had just closed for the day as we drove up but he graciously opened and gave us a private tour of his wonderful collection. There's no doubt that he knows a bunch of stuff about surfing, surfboards, and, lifeguarding. Dick was lifeguarding in the Laguna Beach area the same time we were running up and down the coast from Doheny Park to Cotton's Point. 

We talked about some of the old times; it was clear that our memories had slipped a cog for in our discussion I realized that a few of our memories were not accurate. The following has been updated and hopefully corrected. There will no doubt be more as you old-timers offer your memories. 

Keep Doing Great Things! ~ Dave and Rosie Tansey


Hi my name is Dave Tansey. I came to San Clemente in 1940/41 and entered the little elementary school near the north end of town.  I remember it was across the street from the beautiful small park. I doubt that it's still there. One of my favorite friends was a Japanese girl - I believe she was our class president. Her family had a small farm in a valley that was to the east of the long hill that one went up when entering San Clemente from the north. We kids would sneak into their melon patch and “steal” a delicious melon (sometimes she would be with us.) Her dad would run a few step towards us and warn us to take only one. I believe he enjoyed the game as much as we did. And then there was December 7th and my friend and her father that played the melon game with us and her whole family were gone. I remember being very sad and talking to my mother at length about the unfairness that I felt. She assured me that my sadness was justified. She said that when people are afraid they often make irrational and bad decisions and this was one of those times. She was a very wise mother; she did not try to talk me out of my sadness but rather supported my beliefs. I believe that incident even at my young age helped to shape my sense of fairness and justice and to a degree gave direction to my life for all these years. Every now and then, I have thought of asking the school district to search the archives and see if they could find a name. It would be fun – no, it would be more than fun - it would be truly gratifying to tell her how important she was to so many of us...

I went to San Juan Capistrano High School (we didn't have a San Clemente High or Dana High then). Everyday we all rode the school bus the 8 miles to Capistrano. I graduated from Capo in 1946 and I believe started guarding around the summer of 1945 or 46.

As I ramble through my memories, let me begin by saying that if other old-timers read this and have a different recollection of names and dates they may well be right. I didn't keep records. I'm just an old fellow remembering some of the highlights of those years. And I offer this with full respect not only to the old timers but to the younger and newer generations of guards. I know I speak for many of the old-timers when I say to modern guards---you are better trained than we were, have much better equipment, are probably stronger swimmers than most of us and are, I'm sure, a lot better looking.

If you reproduce this, you may find it necessary to edit my comments because they will, no doubt, be a trifle long but I ask if you do edit that you not cut out the names, even though you don’t know them, for they are the ones who deserve to be remembered. I understand these names are of little importance to most folks but for those who still wistfully look at the surf, and for their children; it is important to recognize that they made a difference.

I know this is your 80th anniversary of the San Clemente Lifeguard Service and you probably have records that go back that far but I only remember from around the early 1940’s. I never had the pleasure of meeting Cliff Russell, who I understand pulled “swimmers” out of rips and off the pilings in those early years  - now that’s a hero. And during those early years another hero, Don Divel kept folks out of trouble and out from under the pier. (It was probably during the early 1940s.) He was as fine a guard as one could ever find. About that time a classmate of mine, Lois Driscoll, was swimming out beyond the furthest swells and, as any good guard would do for a pretty girl, Don swam out to make sure she was OK.  About six years later they married. Now, that has to be the ultimate in good guarding.

You may question my use of the word “hero” in honoring some of the early guards. I do so because these early guards patrolled the beaches alone, with no or minimal support. Of course you know I have a bias. I think many guards past and present do qualify, although they would never accept that honor- they're just doing their job,

Opie (his real name was Tommy Wert) was a longtime guard; gosh, I don't know how long he was on those beaches but it seemed like forever. He was an English teacher at Orange Coast College. I'm sure he could have been Captain for as long as he wished but he preferred to leave as often as he could and go to San Onofre to surf. Being Captain must have cut into his surfing. You notice I keep referring to Captain. I understand you now have lifeguard Chiefs but in those days the only chief was Art Danari, Chief of Police --- the guard captain reported to him. After Opie, Marv Crummer was Captain of the Guards, a really good water man. Marv could spot a distressed swimmer long before the swimmer knew there was trouble brewing. He was great at bringing folks out from under the pier during really rough surf. He was also, I believe, the number one tennis player for Capo High. I became Captain of the Guards when Marv Crummer moved on to bigger and better things. (I'm not sure there is anything bigger and better than the ocean lifeguard.) I know that now the lieutenant, or captain, or chief of the guards is a really big deal (and deservedly so) but in our day, any of the guards could have been any of those positions. They were simply appointed by Chief Daneri so he had someone to call if there was a problem. We got no extra money and had really no more authority although we did get to hire extra guards and ask our fellow guards to handle particular problems like guarding the Depot alone.

Guards on regular duty during that era were Hal Sachs; he was our Lt. and could have been anything he wanted to be, Jerry Martin, Terry DeWolfe, Opie and me. This group was added to on weekends and holidays, for at that time on special days we also guarded San Clemente State Park, Cotton’s Point (years later it was President Nixon’s Western White House) Doheny State Park, and the Depot. The Depot referred to the old train station which was on the beach behind the San Clemente swimming pool at the north end of town. We usually had a guard on the pier and one on each side of the pier. In later years, we covered Doheny  everyday. There was an advantage to working Doheny – fresh Abalone for dinner. Speaking of Doheny, I remember the giant Richfield tower across from the park entrance. It was a major landmark on the coast. I suppose it has been gone a long time. There was a family that ran the restaurant at the Richfield, really great kids – what was their name, was it Heferen or something like that?

I read an early newspaper article which indicated that during one full season we made 109 rescues and assists and gave first aid or emergency treatment to 155 people. I'm sure that's nothing compared to what the modern guard does but I say, somewhat defensively, remember there was only a few of us covering beaches from Doheny to The Depot, San Clemente, San Clemente State Park and Cotton’s Point.

We did have our moments to remember. Art Daneri was a great Chief of Police. He did all he could to get us equipment (that means we had swim fins, and a can buoy, no boats… no jet skis… no jeeps or trucks.) If my memory serves me right we earned $.50 an hour - four dollars a day. (Don't laugh. Remember the 1940’s --- my mother worked as a waitress 48 to 60 hours a week at Woody's White House Cafe on El Camino - the Santa Fe bus stop, or at the Seashore Café - the Greyhound bus stop, for $18 dollars a week, plus tips.) We tried to work seven days a week, after all that was another $4.00 and for many of us it was our next semester’s tuition.

Back to Chief Daneri…he insisted that we submit records of everything we did. I remember him saying, “If you want me to go to the City Council and get you a raise you have to give me some evidence that you're doing some good.” So reluctantly, we got the names of as many as we could that we helped in the water or gave first aid and submitted them to the Chief. I do recall him coming to the beach around 1948 (maybe it was ‘49 or ‘50) to tell us that the 134 rescues we had on that single Fourth of July day were more than many of the lifeguard services on that day from San Diego to Santa Barbara. I’m sure that is nothing compared to the guard services of today. But it wasn’t bad for us on a “rough day” for that entire span of beach. I suspect that today's guards are smart enough to close sections of the beach.  I can't remember ever doing that but we probably should have.

There were some sad stories, of course. I remember in my early years as a guard, as soon as school opened all guards were laid off. The city was small, the budget was tight and there was no money for a guard.  I do not believe there had ever been a drowning while a guard was on duty from those early days of Cliff Russell and Don Divel. Until that first Monday after school started, with no guard on duty, a young girl got trapped under the pier and drowned in a hole at the base of a piling. Many of us felt guilty because the truth is we probably went surfing at San Onofre or the Trestle and could have just as easily been at the pier on our own time.

In those days our lifeguard headquarters was a dingy storage room underneath the entrance to the pier. At first, we had one tower on the busy side of the pier; in those days it was the south side. A year later we got a second tower on the north side of the pier, and in later years a tower at Doheny. Following my time as Captain, Jerry Martin became Captain of the Guards. Jerry was always a good guard and a good Captain. Hal Sachs has pointed out to me that before Jerry became Captain we just wore regular swim trunks. Jerry was able to get regular red uniforms with the lifeguard patch and, I think, a raise in pay. Jerry was very organized and did a lot to advance the lifeguard service. Toward the end of our time, many who are remembered as “kids on the beach.” I understand that many became outstanding guards or surfers – Bobby Driscoll, Vince Nelson (he later worked for Hobie) Jim Severson (there was a whole Severson clan) and a few years later I believe one and perhaps a couple of  Forester boys were surfers. I don’t know if Richard Eyer ever guarded but if not, he could have … he thrived on the beach.  There have been so many that came after our time that we didn't really know but that we heard about through old guards and surfing friends. Some of them became quite famous and I am sure they have been honored by a later generation.

I also want to give credit to those guards that filled in on weekends and holidays. I'll probably get mixed up as to which ones were really paid and which ones just did it for the “love of the sport” but they all deserve recognition. My apology to any that I forget; my kids tell me I'm a week older than dirt and the memory just doesn't serve me as well as I wish, but here goes. Before all of these “guards” there was Loren Harrison, a professional abalone diver and one of the early board builders. I believe Loren surfed with the Duke here and in Hawaii. Years later I saw him surfing in a television commercial for a major company. I hope they paid him a bunch. There was Jimmy Sutton, Minor Harkness (Minor was actually one of the earliest of the bunch. He was recruited out of the surf at San Onofre by Opie), Ben Yarnel - Hal sent me a photo of Ben standing in front of his huge balsa redwood board. Dick Maple, who valiantly served multiple tours of duty as a pilot in Korea. After his service, he was a career pilot for major airlines. I remember Jim Klien, Bill Vetter (I believe he became a big wheel in the surfing club. Didn’t his son John become president of the club?) Jim Gilloon - Jim worked for Hobie supervising the manufacture of the Hobie boards, first at the little retail/manufacturing store in Dana Point that Hobie’s dad built for him, then later at the real manufacturing plant in Capistrano Beach.  Jim was a heck of a surfer. Jim probably had the best sense for where to be in a big swell of anyone I knew. Dick Bruton who still has one of the original Loren Harrison built boards. He bought it in 1945; it was built in the late 1930’s. It is a hollow, plywood board with a redwood nose and a square tail. It has a cork for draining the water. When it loaded up, it weighed 140 lbs,- that’s more than Dick weighed. Mike McManus was an All City Gymnast in LA - that’s big time. If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, he could do all the events but the Side Horse was his specialty (they call it the Pommel Horse now).  There was Don Murray and Ken Cates, a great athlete, a fine high school coach, and a multi - time participant in the famous Iron Man Race. “Pop” and his silver ‘36 Ford,   Niels “Viking” Jensen. I heard recently from Dick Bruton (remember him - he is the surfer that still has the Loren Harrison 1930s board) that Viking has gone to the great surfing beach in the sky. Viking became a prominent physicist. He became a world record holder in 1956 for simulated space flight at an altitude of 160 miles, he was an expert in “Optical and Photographic Reconnaissance.” Wow! He was not only one of the best surfers on the Southern Cal beaches but oh so smart!  Ron Drummond, the biggest man to ever surf a canoe. He took tourists for a ride in his canoe; of course you slow a canoe down or speed it up when you are in a wave, the same as you do a board. He would tell the folks to move forward or back but they would freeze. He finally gave up taking them and instead took his large dog. When we asked him why, he said, “When I tell the dog to go forward, he does; when I tell him to go backward, he does.” And Jack McManus - one of the finest men any of us would have the privilege of knowing. He was a father to many of us. Jack had a long Kook Box; it could have been 14 feet long, a huge hollow plywood paddle board, round in the front and came to a point in the back. He would float outside the surf line at Doheny at the river mouth and pick up tourists as they would get carried out. So I guess we did have some equipment if we count the Kook Box.  John Severson, we all know how famous he became - I think he was an English teacher at Laguna High before he published his first issue of Surfer Magazine. He was, and I’ll bet still is, a fine surfer and one of the best water men to ever get wet. We knew that he would be; just watching him as a kid on an inflated mat, you just knew he had that special instinct.

Speaking of Sutton, Yarnell or Harkness, I can’t remember which one - we sent to the Depot on one of the busy holidays. We gave him a can buoy. Now remember in those days our can buoys were real cans made of sheet metal about 40” high and 8”- 10” across. They were heavy and this one leaked. The guard was to stand it in the sand so folks would know a guard was there but “don’t take it in the water.” There was a pay phone at the Depot we told him to call us if he got busy – we would try to send someone to help. The day went by and we heard nothing and assumed all was well. About 6:00 pm, he came dragging in, he had made fourteen real rescues. A large group from Iowa showed up---well, you can guess the rest. We asked why he didn’t call - his response, “If I had left to call they would have drowned.” We asked where the can was – his response, “You were right, it sank.” So much for our modern equipment! The more I ponder it, the more I’m sure it was Jim Sutton. As folks are prone to do, we went our own way and lost touch but it is a small world, for about twenty years later Rosie and I took one of our daughters to buy her first used car and there it was on Jim Sutton’s car lot in Anaheim - a Ford Mustang –it is a small world.

I'm sure that we would all agree the best guards are those that make it look easy. They bring someone in without anyone on shore ever knowing it was a rescue – no heroics.  I remember a day on the pier during large surf when a fellow guard and I watched a hapless young Marine from Camp Pendleton being pulled towards the pier. When it became clear he would need help, my partner handed me his glasses and his cap and said, “It’s my turn,” and off he went. It was low tide and the pier barnacles were well exposed -- razor sharp, as we all know. He worked the fellow through the pier keeping his body between the swimmer and the barnacles. When he brought him to the other side, he worked him close enough to shore so the Marine could make it on his own. Anyone watching would not have known that it was a rescue. The young man walked up on shore with no embarrassment and the guard simply swam to the end of the pier and came up the ladder -- that's what we would call a good rescue.

There were, of course, times when we looked just plain dumb. I remember a new young guard, who had never worked a pier before, getting real excited as he saw a youngster, he thought was being pulled toward the pier. Without thinking further, he stepped up on the rail and stepped off. We all know that if you must jump into shallow water, you, of course, time your jump to hit the top of the swell or wave. Well, our beginning friend either didn't know that or just missed. As he hit the water and the sand, both of his swim fins split up the middle and the back and floated to the surface. The zipper ripped out of his swim suit as he stood up in knee-deep water just in time to watch the little boy walk up on shore ---sometimes you do learn things the hard way.

I don’t know what your records show but I can tell you the first San Clemente Tournament of Sports was held in 1950 plus or minus a year or two. It was a big event for that little town. They said it would be an annual event but I don’t remember it occurring again while I was there. They had athletes from all over coming for lots of different events. The “rough water swim” was scheduled to be around the pier. The folks who were running the program expected lifeguards from all over Southern California. (At a recent high school reunion I talked with Terry DeWolfe and his memory of the day was considerably different than mine, so I acquiesce to his youth.) Terry says that we came to work that morning expecting  to watch the “rough water swim” (I remember it as actually a relatively calm day – a nice day for a swim around the pier) but in fact with the exception of one kid from Huntington Beach none of those famous lifeguards showed up. The people putting on the event persuaded three of the local guards (Terry says he was one of them) along with the kid from Huntington Beach to swim. (In my original version I credited Terry as being smart enough to not come out of his tower but he was very competitive.) Terry remembers one of the guards saying that he would just swim for a short while and that's what he did. Terry should have won. He was the fastest swimmer but one of the others caught a wave and touched shore just a “bit” a head of Terry - that happens in ocean swims. Although I don't remember for sure, I suspect Terry went back to his tower, applied zinc oxide, put on his cap and dark glasses  and prepared for a day's work; he was really a very good guard. The kid who caught the lucky wave went up on the pier to receive the first San Clemente “Rough Water Swim” Trophy from a movie star. I think her name was Arleen Dahl, or was it Eve Arden? She played Our Miss Brooks in the movies. That’s before most of those reading this were a twinkle in anyone’s eye. His wife tells him that he may still have the trophy tucked in boxes of junk under his house. By the way, the guard that received the trophy was the same kid that a couple of years earlier had jumped off the pier into knee deep water. ---Given a bit of time, we all learn.

There were local kids like Gene and Bill Ayer. They went to Stanford and graduated as engineers. Their dad was with Ole Hanson. (When San Clemente was founded, I think he laid out the whole city.) And Jim and John Molitor, Dale Weatherholt, the Haven kids (their family had a large ranch, I believe they grew more varieties of tomatoes than we thought existed - it didn’t give them much time for the beach), Paul Lesser, Bobby Lashbrook, Norm Veesart,  Keith Roberts, Houston Thompson (a better friend you could not have), Don Klaasen (Wow! What an athlete), the Chade kids (didn’t their folks have a store or restaurant at Capistrano beach?)  Don Hansen (I think he was part of the famous Ole Hanson clan – gosh, I’m not sure.) Jack and Ed Driscoll, Perc Stavron, Leroy Braun, Skip Adair (his parents had a major grocery store in town - right on El Camino, I believe.)

There was Dick Glover and Ralph “Painless” Parker. I believe he became one of Hobie’s finest shapers.  I saw him recently at a high school reunion and he reminded me that he also shaped for Velzy, Bill Taylor, Larry Bucheim (he was from Capo) as were the Bathgate kids. A few of us worked on their parents orange groves filling and lighting smudge pots during the winter freeze. The ranchers would pick us up in an open pick-up truck about 10:00 to 12:00 at night and we would light pots to beat the frost, and the next morning we often filled pots to be ready for the next night. Gosh, I still remember how cold it was. We would then go to the Capo gym, shower, put on school clothes that we kept in our locker and head for class, usually with a good excuse for being late.

Melvin Wood, a fine artist and I understand he became famous for handmade-hand carved highly prized knives. Knowing Mel, I’ll bet they were the best. He and his sister Nell’s dad was a real, honest-to-goodness cowboy who had a great effect on my life. I remember riding with him - I must have been fourteen or fifteen years old. As we would ride he would talk about life and how handling animals was sometimes similar to working with people “a little nudge is often more effective than creating a stampede.” We were bringing back some strays that had found their way to a ranch near Capistrano (I believe it was the Forster ranch) when a lone rider approached us from the south. Mr. Wood knew him. It was a telephone line repair man who rode the lines from the San Diego border through camp Pendleton and to the north repairing telephone lines. I suppose now they do that with helicopters and jeeps and probably have electronic gear that tells them where the problems are.  I never did know his name.  I just knew him as the telephone man. Every now and then I would leave a note for my mom that I was going to ride out to meet the telephone man.  I knew his approximate schedule and would ride way out into the cattle country. I’d stay there by myself until I'd see him coming and then I would ride with him. We would ride through the ranch country beyond Capistrano, through what I suppose is now Mission Viejo and Irvine, to just south of Tustin. In those days, although much of the range was open, the main trails and roads had fences and gates; he carried a big ring of keys that allowed us to go through all the ranches. Knowing that I'd be coming back alone he would say “Dave we will leave these locks open but hooked so they look like they're locked. When you come back through be sure you lock them, I will have the keys.” He would stay over a couple of days in Santa Ana.  I can only guess what he might have been doing.  I would leave him and ride back home. I learned from him how they use their climbing spurs and a climbing strap to go up a pole, how to test a line for continuity and how to splice a wire with just enough slack so it won’t snap if a pole shifts. I don’t suppose kids get to do that stuff “now-a-days.” But they are computer literate, can use google and can text message faster than we can think, so they will be OK.  But I digress.

There was Jim Bill Ames, a sharp bright kid - I loved his personality,  Bud Voykovic - a really good mechanic. I think I still owe him for keeping my first car running. ( It was a’29 Model  A Ford.) He was always working and couldn’t make it to the beach as often as he wanted to. The Lamb kids probably the best athletes Capo ever had - certainly during those times. They lived way out on the old Ortega Highway and had a hard time getting to the beach.  Ted Casad and Bill Morehouse. (These two I’m sure were geniuses. Bill built a tram strung on cables across a San Clemente canyon.) Leonard Goodwin, Eddie Driscoll, Gerald Yorba, the Jimenez’s, Bob Heywood (His dad had a little grocery store in town. If my memory serves me right, it was on Del Mar next to the alley. Am I correct in remembering that right near his store on El Camino was the Drug Store where we would all gather? They had a real soda fountain and would make “real” malts and phosphates of any flavor - my favorite was lime.) Bob Scofield, who I believe turned out to be quite an athlete for old Capo High during his senior year. Bob Hartley, I think he got my horse, Skeeter, when I left for UC Davis. Bob Carrick and Jack Driscoll - they used to ride their horses to the beach and tie them near the guard tower. I couldn’t say much because I did the same.  If I remember right, Jack’s horse was Buttons and Bob’s was Shorty; golly it’s just been too many years to be sure. Seeing Bob Carrick at a recent High School reunion, I am reminded of the kids that joined the service to whom we will always be grateful, for it was their sacrifice that allowed many of us to go to college or other pursuits. Any of the kids I have remembered could have been regular lifeguards. Well, maybe not all of them but I just couldn’t leave them out.  I’m sure there were many others and perhaps someone reading this will recall a few that can be added, for they deserve to be remembered.

The Llamas kids, way too many to list, but Freddie was a good friend. When we were Juniors, we went to Tijuana for three days looking for his dad -- who by the way came home the day we went there. Joe was younger than us but a great kid. I’ll bet he is still liked by everyone. During the school year and after sports, I would ride the late bus home and get off with Freddie.  Mama Llamas would feed me like part of their family. My favorite was homemade tortillas, beans, rice and pork, and great sauce. They raised their own pigs. Gosh, the food was so good. I would then walk to Reeves Rubber Factory and work the swing shift as a press man, making on one set of presses parts for P38 fighter planes and on another set, making swim fins. I believe Dick Bruton and Carmen Reyes worked there in following years. At midnight, I walked back to Freddie’s Mama always left out “leftovers” and a glass of cold milk - sometimes it was goat milk- it was great! I would sleep on their couch, then in the morning we would all catch the school bus. On Friday night after my shift, I would walk home to the Seven Palms Motel. My mom and I lived there in a rather quaint re-modeled garage. It was across El Camino from the Divel funeral parlor. That way I could be home for the weekend. Who could have asked for a better way to grow-up. 

I wasn’t much of an athlete (I’m sure my old friends would be surprised to learn that I earned a varsity letter at U.C.L.A. – I finally found a sport I could do) but the beauty of a small school was we all got to play. In fact we had to play so the school could field a team. During my senior year, I was captain of the “B” football team, - you know the “little guys.” All of my senior buddies -- Gene Ayres, Mel Wood, Keith Roberts, Jim Molitor, Houston Thompson were on the Varsity team. They felt sorry for me having to play on the “B” team. But by the end of the season I felt so sorry for them for with the exception of a 6 – 0 win in a practice game over Elsinore they never won another game. In fact they never scored again. Athletics can seem so unfair. The real joke is that I played center and linebacker - I was no doubt, the least aggressive kid to ever put on Capo colors. Now, Hal Sachs – THERE was a center and linebacker – more about Hal later… but Coach Page never let us feel that we were anything less than a “champ.” It wasn’t until years later when I got my first teaching and coaching job that I realized what a fine teacher he was and how much I hoped I had learned from him. We were undefeated and won the league championship and received little silver footballs. As a typical teenager, during a moment of weakness, I gave that silver football to a young lady who a short time later found a handsome young Marine at Camp Pendleton and I never saw the silver football again.

Athletics were not the only activity that needed bodies. Our school band needed anyone that could toot a horn or pound a drum. The later was me. We did have some real musicians Ed Driscoll and Barbara Mossman and Lois Driscoll. I believe Barbara and Lois played the Sax and Clarinet.  Houston Thompson kept us in time with his Base. As a drummer I was supposed to do that but I had no sense of time so I kept my eye on Houston, as long as he was OK I was OK. Our Teacher Miss Axford got us a job playing for the Riverside High “Senior Ball” at the world famous Mission Inn. Dottie Gilliland was our singer. I thought she did real well. I sure admired her courage to do it. We played and she sang songs like “Sentimental Journey” and “Candy’ I Call My Sugar Candy” – And we dare to think today’s songs are nuts!  On occasion, when we visit our daughter, Terry, in Riverside, we go to the Mission Inn for lunch just so I can tell our grandchildren this story (probably for the ninth time.) Yes, Capo was a small school. Our senior class had sixteen girls and eight boys. “Wouldn’t ya’ think I coulda’ got a date for the prom.” One of the teams in the old Orange League was Valencia High School. In 1962, I became principal of Valencia High School and Rosie and I watched four of our kids graduate on that same football field where as a kid at Capo I played against Valencia.

All of us were just 14 to 18 years old. (In those days we were called boys and girls.) There were no women ocean lifeguards that I know of, society had not yet matured enough. There should have been, for many were every bit the equal in the water to the guys and they were always there to support our work. I remember a guard pulling a child out of a hole who was immediately grabbed by one of the girls, wiped off, made to laugh, given a lecture about holes and safety and returned to his mother. Some were fine body surfers and would astound the tourists by body surfing through the pilings of the pier. There were very few women surfers in those days. Several of the surfing books show photos of a few. I’m sure the Surfing Heritage Museum has records of those early women surfers. Remember, in the early days, many of our boards were remnants of the 30’s - redwood planks or long pointed tail paddle boards…very long, very wide, very thick and ungodly heavy....and some would say not a lot of fun. Then came the balsa boards with redwood rails and then the balsa only Wow! What a relief.

Simmons was experimenting with a foam board covered with plywood and fiberglass. Hobie was doing things in the 1950s. I believe I got my first Hobie just after he opened his shop – I don’t believe it was foam. I remember it as a fiberglass covered balsa blank – is that possible? Dick Metz will know. I got my second Hobie sometime in the late 50’s. Probably 1958 or so. It was a blue fiberglass covered foam board, and as I remember it, about 23 inches wide, 3 1/2 inches thick and about 10’2” long. To this day it still has the fiberglass patches on it for those many times when it didn't quite make it through the pier. Pete Nobel, a football coach at Monterey High, has it now. He still actively surfs in the Santa Cruz, Monterey area and is a great guy.  I let him have it because he will someday have it on display. He has a fine collection. I was honored that he wanted to preserve it. It would be fun if the Heritage Surfing Museum in San Clemente could borrow it and show it, even temporarily. I know they have many more important boards to display, but this board has such a history of San Clemente, Doheny, Cotton’s Point, Dana in the early days, and the Trestle. Perhaps excerpts of what I’m writing could accompany the board. It might be of interest - especially to the old timers, or maybe the “young-uns” would be amused ---naw! They would probably be bored.

In those days, the Trestle Beach was patrolled by Camp Pendleton Marines. It was government property and being there was strictly forbidden but that didn’t stop us. They fired over our heads and if you lost your board you had to go to the M.P. headquarters and plead for it – they always gave it back.  I think we were their form of recreation.

Mentioning Dana reminded me - before they made it a fancy harbor we surfed over a huge reef. In the winter, unless the tide was right, you had to ride high in the wave to be sure you could clear the reef and it was a long way to shore on a cold winter day, no wetsuits then! Dana on a big day was scary, at least to me. Many of the folks I've mentioned were great surfers, I was just so-so, but I loved it and the camaraderie. As we get older and tell our stories, the waves get bigger and steeper, and the curls - curl even more.

By the way, speaking of the pier, to my knowledge the very first person to ride a board through the pier was Hal Sachs. I'm sure now all the little kids that surf with smaller boards have no problem going through the pier but please remember we didn't have those kinds of boards. Going through the pier with our boards was like navigating the Titanic. Many of the piers up and down the coast were surfed because their pilings were much further apart and the stringer rafters were much higher up, but Hal thought he could really do it and he did and then he convinced most of us that we could do it to and we did. I know I’m rambling but when you get to be a week older than dirt you get to ramble.

Soooo, speaking of Hal, he was known as Uncle Hal by all the kids on the beach, and all of us. He won the Huntington Tandem in 1969 and 1970.  I believe the only person to win it two years in a row. He also was in the Duke in 1971 and believe it or not, ended his contest career in 1981 at the Makaha. He went to U.S.F. and played center, linebacker and place kicker for their famous 1951 team which was the inspiration for Kristine Clark’s fine book “Undefeated, Untied and Uninvited.” That year they had defeated many of the great teams of the era but were uninvited to a bowl game. It has been said by many who understand the bowl selection process that the Orange Bowl invitation was assured if they would leave their black players home - Ollie Matson, who was on everyone’s “All American Team” and Burl Toler, a previous Junior College “All American,” later to become the first black official in the NFL. Many from that team went on to become professional greats. Hal was contracted to join the Cleveland Browns, had he not gone in the service. In recent years, he and his fellow team members have been honored with the awarding of a well-deserved Doctorate Degree for their contribution to the University. I believe largely because of Mrs. Clark’s book, and her efforts, there is a movie about that team. And the whole team was honored at the half time of the 2008 New Years Day Fiesta Bowl. When one considers that refusing to accept a bowl invitation under those circumstances was four years before the historic “Brown vs. The Board of Education” Supreme Court decision and seven years before President Johnson ordered armed forces to escort nine black children into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas; it is clear that the USF team was ahead of its time. When one considers that the true test of character is when one does what is right, even when it deprives them of something they wanted and had earned.  It is clear the USF team passed the test with flying colors.

My gosh, I did digress again. Where was I, oh yes, I was talking about the girls. At the risk of offending someone or missing some of the great beach girls, here goes: Betty Jo Lovell, a really fine athlete and pal (I understand from surfing friends that her daughter became a world-class surfer and photographer. We have not had the pleasure of meeting her but we live about an hour south of the famous Maverick surf and less than an hour north of a relatively new surfing spot in Pebble Beach called the “Ghost Tree”. If she's ever in the area we would love to meet her.) Mary & Lois Driscoll (remember Lois? she married Don Divel) Diane DeWolfe (she became an attorney) Joan Molitor, Barbara McManus, and her mother Ma McManus, a mother to all of us. Ma and Jack later built a home right on the beach at Capistrano Beach. The Pingree sisters, Bev and Barb (I learned to drive a small DC2 tractor working on their ranch between lifeguard seasons) Rose Marie Ayer, Marilyn Klaasen, Nell Wood (remember her dad and the role he played in my life) Elberta Coffey, Anna Mae Ames, and the Parker sisters – Shirley, Doris and Norma,  Jane & Wendy Dickey, Cynthia Taylor (I believe her dad had the local pharmacy) Barbara Lesser (her mother made the best hot pickles) Bonna Ray, Norma Yorba, Doris Heywood. Doris was the first girl to jump off the boom at the end of the pier. The boom was about 12’ above the pier which made that first step…Wow!  It was used to lift boats out of the water. The spooky part, and actually very dangerous by anyone’s definition, was climbing to the top. If a bit wet, it was treacherous. One had to balance at the top on a 12” round plate before jumping. Joan & Marcia Jensch - talk about guts! Marcia walked out on the “under the pier rafters” on a big day, balanced herself, and took a picture of Hal surfing through the pier on a board we affectionately called the splinter. (One of the early balsa boards with redwood rails-varnished-no fiberglass. It had hit the pilings so often all of the front balsa was gone so the nose was U shaped with only the rails extending.) I don’t suppose a good guard would have let her do that, but knowing us, we probably applauded her.

As you can tell, for the locals at least, we ran a slightly looser ship. After all, they were as good in the water as we were. It was not unusual for a little one, perhaps eight or ten years old, to ask the guard, “Can I jump?” The Guard picked him up, put him on the rail and away he would go. The guard would watch to be sure all was well as the “little one” navigated through to the other side of the pier and body surfed to shore. I suppose now someone would be in big trouble for that. We did have to become a touch more formal in later years. Fishermen coming in from the live bait boats often had far too much to drink. They would see kids leaping off the rail and thought they could also go for a swim. On occasion, the guards would go in after fully clothed drunk fishermen. So, yes, we eventually had to stop the practice of letting everybody jump off the pier ---at least during the busy time of the day.

The most famous board we had on the beach in those days (except for Jack’s Kook Box) was a board shaped by Joe Quigg. He was from the Santa Monica/Malibu area and had shaped a board for Darrilyn Zanuck. She was the daughter of the famous movie producer Darryl Zanuck. (Many of you, particularly the older folks, I’m sure have seen some of his great movies, “Gentlemen’s Agreement,”  “Sound Of Music,”  “Miracle On 34th Street” - to mention a few.) It was a balsa board although I think it had redwood rails. It was one of the early scoop noses (or perhaps the bottom rocked up so it seemed like a scoop nose.) You couldn't pearl it on the steepest of waves. It was very stable, somewhat wide and flat. I think about 10’2” or so and light for those days. I know the kids today would be embarrassed to be seen on it. Everyone on the beach learned to surf on that board.  Without it, I would have been landlocked. Darrilyn was a fine surfer and a pioneer in women surfing. In the Ben Marcus book “Surfing USA” he points out “In many ways, Darrilyn Zanuck was the original Gidget.” She camped with us at Doheny. We always admired her, not only because she was a fine surfer but because we assumed she was very wealthy and could have stayed in a pretty ritzy place. Although come to think of it, I don't think we had any ritzy places. Darrilyn knew how much I loved her board and at the end of one summer she suggested I buy the board. She thought it should stay on the beach. I believe I paid her payments of five to ten dollars for a total of $40. Gosh, I sure hope I paid it all or, by now with interest, she could take our first born child. When I finally left the beach, I left it there, feeling, as Darrilyn, did that it should stay on the beach. I am sure lots of kids learned to surf on it for years to come. Wow! We never dreamed something like that would be a collector's item. In his fine book “The Surfboard”- Ben Marcus, on page 85 and 86, tells the story of Tommy Zahn, Marilyn Monroe and Darrilyn and the making of the board. On page 91, there's a picture of the replica made by Joe Quigg in 2003. It seems to me the original had redwood rails and was 10’2” (as mentioned in Ben's book on page 87) and was less pointed in the tail, similar to board #40 shown in the Heritage Museum brochure. But who am I to debate with the originator of the board. I'm just pleased to have had it for so long. If I could find Darrilyn today, I would like to thank her for being one of our Doheny pals. She was a truly great person. (Note: After writing this originally in 2006, through Darrilyn’s brother’s office and Zanuck productions, I did find Darrilyn. They forwarded a copy of this to her and she responded with a wonderful note talking about how important those days on the beach and surfing were to her.)

I can’t close without remembering Buddy Gable. He wasn’t a lifeguard. I don’t even know if he could swim. He had the hamburger stand at the beginning of the pier. He took care of the guards and every kid on the beach. He was our counselor. He kept us in line if we started to stray (every one needs someone like that.) To this day I have yet to taste a better hamburger than his… especially on a cold and stormy day.  At the end of the season, Buddy would have a party for all of us. He would sell anything he had left over at his cost. (He never wanted to make money off of us.) Well, there was an old, floppy eared dog that used to hang around the pier. I don’t know who it belonged to, if anyone. We called him “Grant.” That dog loved Don Klaasen and the feeling was mutual. If the dog was on the pier and Don was in the water and Don called the dog, it would jump off the pier and swim to shore with Don. We never saw anything like it. At the end of the season, Don bought a whole carton of mint patties from Buddy and “Grant” ate every last one – well that dog pooped mint for a week. (Note - After reading this Don and Lois's daughter, Jane, told me that her mom and dad had purchased Buddies home and for years held a ‘season-ending lifeguard party’ at their home.) As one of our sons reminded me, our history is our true heritage. That's certainly true as these stories link together.

PLEASE, if you don’t see your name above or the name of someone that should be here, add it. I’m doing all this from memory with help from Hal; and as I’ve said, our old memories sometimes slip.

A number of years ago I was speaking at a convention. (I am one of those motivational speaker guys. I’m old but I “clean up real good.”) The person introducing me noted in my background that “a hundred years ago I had been a lifeguard.”  (Of course, I wrote the introduction and I’m very proud to have been a guard.) When I completed the presentation, a fellow approached me and asked, “Which one?” I said, “Which one what?” He said, “Ocean or pool?” I said, “ Ocean.” And he said, “Never forget you’re part of a very special group.” That was Tim McNulty, who had been a member of the Los Angeles Ocean Lifeguards, as his father had been. Tim’s son served as the head of one of the Bay Watch Teams for LA county guards and married an L.A. lifeguard. How’s that for family involvement. He mentioned such names as Pete Peterson, Tommy Zahn, and others also of our era.  From that time on, including today, my introduction says Ocean Lifeguard. I respect our pool friends but I'm sure glad I spent my time on the beach.  As my friend said, “Never forget you are a very special member of a very special group.”

The lifeguards of that era, as do modern lifeguards, went on to do many things. Many lettered in varsity sports from rugby & football, to swimming & gymnastics, to track & crew, at different colleges and universities throughout the country.  Many received their bachelors, and masters, and a few their doctoral degrees. Some became lawyers and doctors, and engineers; some went into government. Many served in the military and traveled to far away lands so we could continue to enjoy our shores. Some became coaches, teachers, school principals and school superintendents, firemen, policemen and many, I am sure, opened their own businesses - ranging from the insurance world, to the auto and RV industry, to construction and maintenance. Others went into trades and professions too many to mention. A few, I believe remained lifetime lifeguards somewhere in the world.  Most have raised fine families with, perhaps, a few sons and daughters following the lifeguard path. As with any group, I suppose there are a few that took a different direction but from my experience I can say that while they worked the beach they did some great things and will forever be a member of “that very special group.”

Wow! That’s enough rambling from an Ol’ Beach Bum. I, as all guards, have a lot more stories but I won’t try your patience any longer. My goal was to give you a flavor of the beach, surfing and life guarding as well as the culture during those years.  Please share this with anyone that might be a bit interested.

On behalf of all those we have mentioned above and those we have missed…Congratulations to all of your guards and your lifeguard reunion and...Keep Doing Great Things!! ~ Dave and Rosie Tansey with thanks to Hal and Lynn Sachs and all those who remembered stuff better than we did. 

Originally written for the Lifeguard Reunion of 2006

Updated July 2011 for the 80th Reunion

Phone: (831) 763-2722 or 1-800-678-4169