Thousands of spectators and athletes of all ages and skill levels will converge on the sands of local beaches this weekend for the 53rd Annual International Surf Festival water and sand competitions.
In the 1950s, the cities of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach hosted separate beach festivals. In 1962, the cities decided to join forces with Los Angeles County to create the International Surf Festival. Today, the event is presented by the three beach city chambers of commerce, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and Department of Beaches, and BeachSport.org.
Lifeguard competitions highlight the weekend long festival. Competitions for the public include swimming, paddling, surfing, bodysurfing, sand runs and volleyball.
“The longevity of the Surf Festival is attributable to the lifeguard base,” event coordinator Rob McGowan said. “The lifeguard competition and the pier to pier swim are the key events. The South Bay has a health and fitness-oriented population and the Surf Festival fits right in with that lifestyle.”
Joel Gitelson, retired Ocean Lifeguard Specialist for the L.A. County Fire Department, knows the importance the Surf Festival holds for lifeguards.
“It’s such an exciting event for lifeguards,” Gitelson said. “It’s a place where they can all get together at once. With a few exceptions, there is no communal meeting place. Particularly in the Beach Cities, there is no locker room where lifeguards dress and then go to work. They drive or ride their bikes right to their respective towers.”
Although the Surf Festival officially kicks off this evening, July 31 at Seaside Lagoon with the Lifeguard Medal of Valor Dinner, competition begins Wednesday with the Charlie Saikley 6-Man Beach Volleyball Tournament on the south side of the Manhattan Beach Pier.
The tournament concludes Thursday with costume-clad teams vying for the coveted championship. The teams include some of the world’s top professional volleyball players and attracts thousands of spectators.
Simmzy’s, a team of Mira Costa and Loyola High School alums, won the 2013 Men’s open tournament while Rusher/Bacchus 900 captured its fifth consecutive Women’s Open title. Goodstuff won the Men’s Masters (40+) championship and Desperate Housewives won the Women’s Masters (35+) crown.
Charlie Saikley, the “Godfather of Beach Volleyball,” Charlie Saikley ran the Six-Man, as well as the Manhattan Beach Open for decades. He worked for the Manhattan Beach Department of Parks and Recreation for more than 40 years. He died in 2005 at the age of 69.
The lifeguard events will showcase the ocean skills and athletic prowess of those who protect and save beach swimmers.
The L.A. County Lifeguard Championships will be held Friday and the Southern California Lifeguard Championships take place on Saturday.
Both begin at 7 p.m. on the north side of the Hermosa Beach Pier and are held under the lights, enabling the lifeguards to compete after their daytime shifts end. Along with bragging rights, the events serve as a tune-up for the Nautica United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) National Championships, Tuesday, Aug. 5 through Saturday, Aug. 9 in Virginia Beach..
The L.A. County Lifeguard Association (LACLA) will be looking for its 28th consecutive championship and 41st in the 45 year history of the event.
Westchester resident Brian Murphy, who grew up in Hollywood Riviera and Coral Kemp, of Redondo Beach, were recently named to the United State’s 12-lifeguard team that will participate in the Life Saving World Championships to be held in France Sept. 16-21.
Murphy will be competing for the Manhattan Beach team on Friday and the L.A. Central Section team on Saturday.
“The Surf Festival is great for the community and brings awareness to safety and fitness,” Murphy said. “As a kid, I begged my parents to take me to the Surf Festival every year. I was drawn into the sport side of lifeguarding and the seed was planted. I would watch closely to see how they did certain things. It’s been a progression for me and has made me who I am today.”
Kemp will be a member of the Cabrillo-Torrance-Redondo team in the intracrew relay, after qualifying for the event for the first time last year. Before she hits the water, Kemp will display another talent by singing the national anthem to open the competition.
“My first memory of the Surf Festival was when I was 12 or 13 years old and competing in the Junior Lifeguard events,” Kemp said. “We would watch the intracrew and Taplin Bell and support our instructors. I thought the dory boats and the teamwork involved was amazing. I really noticed the camaraderie the lifeguards had and wanted to be a part of it.”
Tom Seth, of Manhattan Beach will be competing for LA County’s Central Section team in the Taplin Bell competition on Saturday. Seth and fellow lifeguard Mel Solberg are tied for the most Taplin wins with 15.
The L.A. County Lifeguard Championships feature the Bud Stevenson Intracrew relay consisting of two runners, four swimmers, four paddlers, one surf ski paddler, and four two-person dorys.
Stevenson served as Los Angeles County’s Chief lifeguard in 1950s and was instrumental in changing Hollywood’s “beach boy” image of lifeguards by developing the rigorous and comprehensive training programs that has brought lifeguarding standards to its present day status.
Venice will attempt to win its eighth consecutive title against teams from Cabrillo-Torrance-Redondo, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Dockweiler, Santa Monica, Will Rogers, Malibu, Zuma Beach, and the Baywatch Rescue Boat Crews.
Venice will be challenged this year with the loss of swimmer Chad Carvin, a 2000 Olympic silver medalist who has returned to the South Bay.
Prior to the start of the Bud Stevenson Intracrew relay Los Angeles County Lifeguards will compete in the 6-lifeguard run relay; 4-lifeguard shallow water sprint relay; and the 6-lifeguard rescue board relay.
Renowned waterman Kyle Daniels, an L.A. County Lifeguard Captain stationed in Manhattan Beach, is director of the Junior Lifeguard Program. He feels the Surf Festival is a goal for many in the youth program.
“It’s a great event with a long tradition,” Daniels said. “It’s a positive thing for the community and engages the surf environment. There are a lot of ball fields and courts for athletic competition, but not many events in the surf. The event provides a great challenge for all the lifeguards.”
Tandis Morgan, of Hermosa Beach, said the Surf Festival is a tradition in her family. Her father, Steve, is a retired lifeguard and her brother Tyler is a lifeguard and will compete. Tandis began competing in the Junior Lifeguard competition when she was 12 years old and has competed in the Bud Stevenson Intracrew relay since becoming a lifeguard in 2000. She will be in the boat for the Manhattan Beach team this weekend.
“The Surf Festival is very sentimental for me,” Tandis said. “I’ve been going since I was a little kid. We would sit on the sand berms used for bleachers. I remember watching my dad compete.
“I was so excited to be selected for the intracrew when I was a rookie lifeguard. It was something I had been watching for so many years and to actually compete in it was an amazing feeling.”
Tandis said every year her mother makes gallons of zucchini soup and feeds the team after the race.
“We are cold and wet and the soup is so good,” Morgan said. “Everyone really looks forward to it.”
The Southern California Lifeguard Championships feature the Judge Irving Taplin relay consisting of four swimmers, four paddlers, and four 2-man dory teams and considered the most prestigious lifeguard event in the United States.
The three-mile relay is named after Judge Irving Taplin, who donated a three-tiered brass bell trophy in the 1930s when lifeguard competitions were organized to demonstrate skills and knowledge of the surf. The Taplin relay has been held every year since 1936 with the exception of 1942 thru 1945, when the event was suspended during World War II.
The winning team gets the honor of holding the “Taplin Bell” perpetual trophy until the following year’s race. The individual names of all sixteen team members from the winning team are engraved on the perpetual trophy to mark their place in history.
“One of the key changes to the lifeguard events came about four or five years ago,” said longtime competitor and 2005 Medal of Valor winner Joel Gitelson. “When they began using stadium lighting, it made all the difference in the world. Spectators could see what was happening in the water and the lifeguards weren’t blinded coming into shore.”
The Los Angeles County – Central “A” team is the defending champion.
Prior to the Taplin relay, spectators will be treated to rescue demonstrations, Jr. Lifeguard relays, and Lifeguard Beach Flags.
The Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim is one of the most popular long distance swims in the United States and will be held Sunday at 9 a.m.
The race is named after Dwight Crum who, as a captain in 1957, introduced Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) to the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Program for the first time. He was the first chairman of the International Surf Festival when it began in 1962, holding that position for 16 years.
Gary Crum has continued Dwight’s legacy as a lifeguard serving 17 years as the Section Chief in charge of the same beaches as his father. After retiring in 2001, Gary became chairman of the Surf Festival for 10 years, taking over as race director in 2010.
Despite the highly-publicized report of the shark attack on distance swimmer Steve Robles near the Manhattan Beach Pier, participation in the two-mile swim has increased breaking last year’s record of 1,100 swimmers.
“We have approximately 1,200 swimmers registered for this year’s swim and not one swimmer requested a refund from the swim as a result of the shark incident,” Crum said. “Steve Robles is making a nice recovery and has agreed to be the official starter for the 2014 Dwight Crum Pier to Pier Swim.”
Swimmers enter the water on the south side of the 10th Street Lifeguard Tower (South of the Hermosa Beach Pier). They swim around the Pier, parallel to shore then round the Manhattan Beach Pier and finish on the beach.
Crum said that ocean conditions such as water temperature, riptides and large surf pose a greater threat to swimmers than the marine life on the course.
To minimize the risk to swimmer safety, this swim requires the participants to pass a 500 meter ocean swim test for swimmers who didn’t complete the 2013 Dwight Crum Pier to Pier Swim. In addition, the swim course will be safeguarded by over 50 Los Angeles County Lifeguards and many of the swimmers will also have personal paddlers to maintain their safety.
“This year we have swimmers from 26 different states registered for the swim,” Crum said. “Lots of participants tell us that this swim is one of their favorite events of the year. The Surf Festival is a great example of what living in the South Bay is all about.”
San Pedro’s Kevin Fink won last year’s swim with a time of 41:21 while former Mira Costa swimming star Taylor Spivey won the women’s division at 44:06.
Saturday’s action begins at 6:45 a.m. with the International Bodysurfing Championships on the north side of the Manhattan Beach Pier with eight men’s and women’s divisions with participants ranging in ability from the novices to former World Champions.
The event is run by the Gillis Beach Bodysurfing Association which is celebrating its 50th year as the world’s oldest bodysurfing club. Age groups will be determined immediately before the contest begins and will be approximately equal in size. Beach entries will be accepted if space is available.
Event Co-Chair Bob Holmes said the Surf Festival offers one of the most affordable bodysurfing contests on the west coast. In past years, the event has drawn bodysurfers from other countries including New Zealand, Germany and England.
“With permits, insurance and other logistics, it’s very hard for a group to put on an event,” Holmes said. “Graciously, the International Surf Festival has let us hold the event under its umbrella which we’ve done for at least 25 years. It has an old-school feel of warm, friendly competition while showing skills on the cutting edge.
Judging is based on length, maneuvers, tricks and size of the wave. As is tradition, members of the Gillis club do not compete in the event allowing others to take home the awards.
“I’ve talked with people who tell me ‘Oh, I’ve bodysurfed before’,” Holmes said. “I tell them to come down and watch how people with a pair of trunks and a pair of fins can do what a dolphin can do.”
The 3-lap dory race was renamed this year in honor of Paul Matthies, a member of the post World War II generation of Los Angeles County lifeguards who shaped what had previously been a largely volunteer organization into the most highly regarded ocean lifesaving organization in the world.
A nearly unbeatable lifeguard doryman, Matthies passed away peacefully at his Hermosa Beach home on June 14, at age 93.
Beginning Sunday at 8:30 a.m. at the Hermosa Beach Pier, two-man dory crews will row through the surf, around the pier, and back through the surf on the north side of the pier. One crewmember exits the dory and runs across a flag line on the beach, returns to the dory completing the lap.
The Doryman’s Relay will follow immediately after the 3-Lap Dory Race on the north side of the pier. This event pits individual team members against each other. The Doryman’s Relay is where each team member rows their dory out through the surf, around a buoy, and back through the surf individually, tags their partner where their partner will row the same course. This process will occur twice.
Tom Seth, of Manhattan Beach, and Dave Cartlidge, of Redondo Beach, won both races 2013 event.
“We’ll be back to defend our title but it will be very interesting this year,” Seth said. “The team of James Bray and Dane DeBoer beat us in one race last year but is very fast and just needed more time together.”
Both teams a vying for the National Doryman’s Association championship and are virtually tied in points heading into the Surf Festival.
Seth said he will compete in the dory race after joining his kids in the paddleboard event.
”I’ve been competing in the Surf Festival since I was a Junior Lifeguard 35 years ago,” Seth said. “It’s a way of life for all lifeguards and considered part of our summer. The support from the community has been outstanding.”
One of the original events, the International Surf Festival Surfing Championships will be held Saturday at 7:30 a.m. on the south side of the Manhattan Beach Pier, one of the premier surfing locations in the South Bay.
Surfing has been absent from the International Surf Festival in recent years because summer surf is so inconsistent in the South Bay. But contest director John Joseph is hoping (the ISF website solicits prayers) for surf this year.
Divisions include men’s and women’s short boards, long boards and stand-up paddleboards.
The event includes short boards, long boards, women’s and stand-up paddleboard divisions. Awards will be given to the top 3 place finishers in each division.
At Hermosa Beach, the Dick Fitzgerald Two-Mile Beach Run starts and finishes at the pier beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday.
Fitzgerald was the first Director of the Department of Beaches which was formed in 1969 after county lifeguards, previously under the administration of the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, became overwhelmed with the increasing needs of local beach communities.
This fun race is very challenging because of the soft sand on the first half of the race and the hard pack run on the return trip.
Defending champions are the husband and wife team of Jeff and Alison Atkinson, of Manhattan Beach. Jeff was first across the finish line with a time of 13 minutes, 5.07 seconds. Alison finished at 14:51.06.
The race is conducted by the Mira Costa Track and Cross Country teams. Proceeds from the run go back to the team.
Sunday’s competition starts at 7:30 a.m. with the Velzy-Stevens Pier-to-Pier Paddleboard Championship presented by the South Bay Boardriders Club.
The race starts off the end of the Manhattan Beach Pier and finishes on the beach, south of the Hermosa Beach Pier. It’s family-friendly, with parents and kids paddling tandem and others riding all sorts of boards in one of the fastest growing sports on water.
The race is dedicated to the late Dale Velzy and Terry Stevens. Velzy, a surfing legend, surfboard shaper and paddleboard maker, had a major impact on the design of paddleboards and played a vital role in keeping the sport of paddleboarding alive when shortboard surfing became popular.
Stevens won the Catalina Classic Stock Division (12-foot boards) in 1982, the first year the race was held since 1961. His name was added to the race in 1998, the year he died.
In 2013, Max First had the fastest time with a mark of 17:06. Tess King was the top female with a time of 21:04.
Other events include California Beach Volleyball Association tournaments (Both days, 9 a.m., Hermosa Beach Pier), Sand Castle Design Contest (Sunday, 7:30 a.m., Manhattan Beach Pier) and Youth Swim & Paddles (Sunday, 1 p.m., Hermosa Beach Pier).
For more information, including a timetable of events, visit surffestival.org.