I snapped out of my slumber as my alarm bellowed away–it was 4:30 am. When it comes to surfing Trestles, I like to make a day out of it, especially if there are waves. Although my eyelids felt heavy as lead, I shuffled my way to the kitchen for coffee. As I sipped from my warm cup, I began to perk up. This wasn’t any regular Tuesday; later that day I would be attending the San Clemente Lifeguard Association’s Trestles Invitational for the first time, and I was beginning to get sparked.
After an early morning session at Uppers, I made my way down to Middles, where the annual contest was being held for its tenth year. The waves were pumping; the report said that the South-facing swell was bringing head-high sets all day long. The competition’s rules are minimal: you must ride at least a nine-foot board, no leashes allowed, and you shouldn’t take anything too seriously. As I approached the main tent, I could see the event’s founder, Scott La Londe, laughing as he pulled a yellow jersey over his head while still wearing sunglasses, rushing to get into the lineup for his heat.
Once he returned from the water and changed out of his wetsuit, La Londe, who is a San Clemente State and Los Angeles County lifeguard, took some time to explain the event’s origins. Back in 2010 he and some friends piled into a Volkswagen van with their boards and drove north to check out the Secos Classic at Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu. Even though La Londe and his buddies did not know anyone in attendance, they felt welcomed by the lifeguards there. Feeling inspired, La Londe dreamed of doing something similar, but closer to home in San Clemente.
“I saw the Secos Classic as a way to kind of give back to the lifeguard community,” La Londe said. “I had so much fun at the contest that when we came back, my friends and I were itching to do one here. So we did. We started it in 2012, and didn't really know what we were doing–maybe we still don't. There's always the joke of, ‘How many lifeguards does it take to open up an E-Z Up?’”
Emmy Lomboard, who is a San Clemente State lifeguard that has been competing and assisting with the contest since its inception, says that it’s her favorite event of the year. She explained that growing up competing in shortboard, longboard, and college competitions, everything was based on image and big sponsors. The Trestles Invitational, instead, welcomes lifeguards surfing together, being competitive, and most importantly, having fun.
“When we come down to these contests and we are in these heats, we are yelling for each other and cheering each other on. I just surfed a heat with some of my friends that I've known for years lifeguarding together. The vibes are sick. You don't care if you are going to win, you are just stoked because you are paddling out with your friends and sharing epic waves together,” Lombard said.
Dan Lorch is a retired San Diego City lifeguard of 35 years. He notes that the low-key nature of longboarding, making turns, and gliding is what promotes the laid-back vibe of the contest. In a line of work that is often under-appreciated, Lorch thinks the event is the ideal way to bring lifeguards together from across the state for a shared celebration of the hard work that they do. To Lorch, lifeguarding and surfing go hand-in-hand, something he feels is overlooked today.
“One of the things that I used to impress on the regional academies is that I don't care if you are an Olympic swimmer. There was a time when they didn't want surfers because they had a reputation. So they would hire these guys that were great pool swimmers or whatever, but they weren't good in the ocean,” Lorch said. “If there is somebody in trouble, I'm going to beat you there on my 11-footer every time. To me, surfing’s a big part of lifeguarding. Today is the epitome of that. Unfortunately a lot of people don't realize this. They think, ‘Hey man, these are my taxpayer dollars, and you are surfing on the job?’”
Shane Johnson is a lifeguard at Huntington and Bolsa State Beaches. To him, the Trestles Invitational is the coolest contest he has ever been a part of. He attributes this to the camaraderie and sense of family he feels among the lifeguard community. He notes that the San Clemente Lifeguard Association, run by President Scott Schrienger, is the glue that bonds these connections and brings everyone together.
“Once you are in the lifeguard family, it's all family, it doesn't matter where you are from. We are all here for the same reason–because we like to help people,” Johnson said. “When you are here, win or lose, it's always a good time. And obviously we have some waves today so it's super exciting seeing everyone send it on single fin longboards and trying to noseride on six-foot-plus waves.”
After tacos, plenty of beer, and the final heat, everyone gathered around for La Londe to announce the winner. Cardiff’s Nativ Surf Designs, run by brothers Nick and Nate McKeever, donated a 9’6” Speed Square for the lucky individual that would take the 2023 crown. As the sun was beginning its descent, surfers from Lowers were starting their journeys southbound on the bike path, swerving around the contest crowd in the process. Suddenly, a voice from the back of the crowd shouted, “Hey, everyone make way for Kelly!”
Believe it or not, the GOAT himself began to snake his e-bike through the mob, grinning shyly from ear-to-ear as he accidentally interrupted the awards ceremony. Everybody exploded into cheers and Slater received a beer shower before he revved his way out of the madness. That in itself was the perfect segue to award San Clemente’s own Derek Richens first place, who had his own beer shower moments later.
After doing what I could to help in the break-down process, I decided to stop by the San Mateo Campground for the afterparty. When I pulled up, I was greeted with pizza and a welcoming bonfire. It was a truly epic way to end the day. After witnessing such a wholesome event, it’s reassuring to see that surfing is still pure, no matter how much it can be diluted by the commercial, industry side of things.
When I was driving home a short while later, I began to think about something La Londe had said earlier, in regards to how surfers and beach goers can show appreciation for lifeguards. “Lifeguards are seagulls so if you want to give them some food, they are always going to take it, ten times out of ten,” La Londe joked. Then more seriously, he added, “I’ll tell you what, if you walk by a lifeguard tower and you say, ‘Thank you,’ that really means something. I don't ever get sick of that, you know?”
By Elliott Wright