An estimated 110 million people visit the beaches of Southern California during the summer time. From star-laden Malibu to the hip Newport Beach, the Left Coast of America is renowned for its miles of shoreline, coastal cruising locations and people-watching and sports opportunities.
Approximately 40% of the beach-goers get in the water to swim, surf, body surf, paddle and kayak. With full-time and part-time lifeguards to protect the masses of visitors to the beach and in the surf, everyone is in good hands.
Up and down the coast, the lifeguards are independent units, but are also divisions of the local fire department, responsible for both onshore safety and ocean rescues. They guard from watchtowers, rescue boats, and basic patrol cars driving up and down the beach where, on a moment’s notice, they can be jumping off their watchtower, sprinting down the beach with their rescue tube and fins, dolphining through the shallows, and racing through the surf to save someone from drowning or providing medical assistance.
They also support local police, find lost children, bandage wounds and enforce environmental laws.
Always active and ever vigilant, the lifeguards are required to be fit, knowledgeable of the ocean and good runners and swimmers.
This morning, their fitness and surf swimming abilities were put to the test in the annual Mega, also known as Megacolossus, a Huntington State Beach Lifeguards Association-sponsored race in the sand and surf of the Pacific Beach.
The Mega consists of 5 beach runs totaling 8.5 miles (13.7 km) and 4 ocean swims totaling 4000 yards (3.65 km) through the surf. There are no entry fees, no awards, no wetsuits, no fins, and no shoes. The competitors run in their swimsuits with their goggles in an underground California lifeguard celebration of life.
For the fourth year in a row on his home turf, 26-year-old Nick Sullivan won going away in 1 hour 36 minutes on a clear summer day with Catalina Island in the distance. But it was not easy. From the start of the Mega at the Santa Ana River bordering Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, Sullivan was pushed by young 16-year-old junior lifeguard Sasha Romanenko.
As the Mega continued along the length of Huntington Beach, Sullivan played to strengths – the beach runs as the younger Romanenko surged on the swim legs. Interspersed between the longer soft-sand runs, the four ocean swims around offshore buoys and the Huntington Beach Pier, were both a relief and a challenge. After sweating the runs, the guards had to endure the surf in the cooler 61°F (16°C) ocean water of the Pacific Ocean.
36-year-old Brian Meyer, a reserve lifeguard in Huntington Beach, finished sixth with an unusual, but effective, training method. “I do a lot of surfing, some pool and ocean swimming. But I am a valet, so I run a lot fast [in the parking lots].”
Ryan McDonald, a 21-year-old lifeguard From Seal Beach, led a large contingent from Seal Beach (hometown of Lynne Cox) and placed third. “I play water polo and the swims were pretty good. I was out there to win, but the pace on the runs were tough.”
As Sullivan added to his victory streak, it may be that future clashes will be closer. Romanenko placed a strong second in 1 hour 38 minutes. “I swim for Servite and have been a junior guard for 6 years. My swims were good, but Nick got me on the back half.”
The top female Taylor Spivey (shown above with Sullivan) finished strongly in 1 hour 45 minutes, 12th overall. But pain was etched on her face…and all over towards the end as she tried to hang with the top men. The 21-year-old Los Angeles County lifeguard and college swimmer from Manhattan Beach explained, “Oh, my calves cramped up and I had the worse side ache.” But like seemingly everyone of the 100+ lifeguards who participated with over 20% women, she came across the finish line with a smile.
As did Sullivan. “It was a bit cold on the inside [of the surf],” said Sullivan who reeled in the early leaders in the second half. By the last buoy, the race was his where he was all smiles at the end.
The top 3 finishers in the annual Celebration of Life:
The next run-swim-run on the Southern California circuit is the Big Richard (20 miles of soft sand running + 7 miles of ocean swimming) on September 14th.
Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association