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
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
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
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
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 , he came dragging in, he had made fourteen real rescues. A large group from
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
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
There were local kids like Gene and Bill Ayer. They went to Stanford and graduated as engineers. Their dad was with Ole Hanson. (When
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 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
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
The Llamas kids, way too many to list, but Freddie was a good friend. When we were Juniors, we went to
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
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
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
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
In those days, the
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
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
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
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.