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by Noah Levy
Photos by Ken Pagliaro (KenPagliaro.com)
When people ask why my dad founded the Derek V. Levy Beach Decathlon, I find myself stumbling for an explanation. Both the decathlon and myself celebrated our 23rd birthdays this summer.
I suspect the Aztecs had similar trouble explaining to the Spaniards why they engaged in human sacrifice. Like the Aztecs of colonial Mexico, those of us born at the beach are seeing our world slip away. The Decathlon, with its Viking helmets, Rastafarian tams, flying toilet seats and tequila shots from a crystal skull, celebrates our fast fading, sandy, denim-clad beach culture.
The event is held the first Saturday following Labor Day at the Neptune Street lifeguard tower, where my dad’s crew grew up. The 16 decathletes compete on four-men teams in conventional events such as surfing, over-the-line and king of the court volleyball, and not so conventional events, such arse shoes (horseshoes with toilet seats) and Nordic paddling (on finless lifeguard rescue paddleboards, which don’t paddle straight). Other events include beach bocce ball, Frisbee golf, kayaking and water flags (like beach flags, only with small balls bobbing in the surfing line.)
The top points earner receives a denim jacket, his name engraved on the perpetual trophy and bragging rights. The low point earner gets to wear the never washed, Dead Last pirate shirt and bragging rights.
Most of the original Decathletes — including Mira Costa High graduates from the ’70s, such as Pat Riordan, Jeff Horn, Ben Burkhalter, and Jim Coward — have moved on from competing to heckling from the sidelines. This year’s new decathletes included the Zaun brothers Dane and Kelly, Oliver Thomas (this year’s top point earner) and Connor Smith (this year’s Dead Last honoree).
My dad rails on, as competitive as ever, all the while making sure my brother Luke and I uphold the traditions of those born at the beach. ER