Lifeguard captain is all grown up

Nick Steers at his post at Zuma Beach.

Nick Steers, a longtime local lifeguard and recent lifeguard captain in Malibu, retired from the profession on March 31; the father of two says he has “finished the ladder of lifeguarding.”

By Kevin Connelly/Special to The Malibu Times

It is safe to say that 59-year-old Nick Steers is quite grown up; amongst other duties, the recently retired ocean lifeguard captain has spent the past 40 years saving lives on beaches in Santa Monica and Malibu.

But Joyce Steers, his wife of 30 years, at one time had her doubts.

“Early in our relationship,” Nick Steers recalled in a telephone interview, “I remember her [Joyce] asking me what I was going to do when I really grew up.”

As he had been since his early twenties, Steers was working as a lifeguard at the time. His wife did not think he would be doing the same thing for a living 40 years later.

“It’s true,” Joyce Steers admitted with a laugh. “I said it.”

Long before he met his wife though, Steers immigrated with his family at a young age to Santa Monica from Holland. Steers said he loved to swim as a child and he took this passion for swimming with him to Santa Monica City College and CSUN, where his coaches mentioned lifeguarding to him. His parents owned a restaurant at the time and he knew that was not something he wanted to do himself.

“Okay,” he told his coaches. “I’ll take a shot.”

This shot landed him a part-time lifeguarding job in Santa Monica in the spring of 1965. Steers worked as a part-time lifeguard throughout college until 1968 when, a year before graduating from CSUN, he was hired full-time at Santa Monica Beach. Talking about these early days as a lifeguard, one shift in particular stuck out to Steers: “Within the first two weeks of being hired, I was wet one day for the entire day,” Steers recalled. “I made about 20 rescues. Every time people need your help, you [as a lifeguard] feel like you’re legitimately saving their lives.” There was another time in the late 1960s,” Steers continued, remembering another prominent event. “I was driving home from a sporting event and I heard on the radio of an airplane crash just off of the Santa Monica Pier. There were no survivors, but I helped with the body recovery. It really impacted me. Nothing can compare to helping people out like that.”

Steers worked as a full-time lifeguard in Santa Monica for 28 years and was promoted as he gained more experience. Finally, he was transferred to northern Malibu, which includes Zuma and Point Dume beaches, where he worked as a lifeguard captain for 15 years. He said he fell in love with the city and took pride in working in such a place.

And yes, Steers is aware that many episodes of television’s “Baywatch” were filmed on the beaches of Malibu. “The popularity of lifeguarding increased as a result of ‘Baywatch,'” he said. “People would come up to me sometimes and call me Mr. Baywatch.”

But figuring 40 years was enough time as a lifeguard, Steers retired on March 31. One of his associates, Lifeguard Captain Dan Atkins, commented on Steer’s work in Malibu.

“There are a million things I could say about [Steers],” Atkins said in a telephone interview. “He is a very energetic person. There are a whole bunch of talents that make this thing work and [Steers] has these talents. I hope he really enjoys his freedom.”

Freedom may not be the most opportune word in this case though. Joyce Steers said she and her husband intend on keeping busy in the post-retirement world. “We are currently working on remodeling the house,” she said “so that has been taking a lot of our time.”

But she also said they intend on doing a great deal of traveling-they go to Maui every year- and, Joyce said, they both like to just “hang out.” The lifeguard’s wife, who has a master’s degree from UCLA in special education, has been retired herself for 30 years.

Wherever the couple goes, however, must include the requirement of water.

“Water is in my husband’s blood,” she continued. “He must be near the water and outdoors.”

Steers said he no longer surfs as he did in his limber years, but still enjoys scuba diving and snorkeling. He has taken countless photographs for The Malibu Times and said he plans on continuing to do so while taking photography classes in his free time. He also has a real estate license and said he works in the trade part-time with his brother.

His advice for those who want to pursue lifeguarding as a career is to participate in the Junior Lifeguard Program, where, he said, one can find out all they need to know about the profession. He urges dedication, persistence and discipline, and said the camaraderie within the profession is one thing that separates it from many other jobs.

Also, Steers said, females and males alike are encouraged to pursue lifeguarding, unlike when females were absent from the profession in his youth. There are many different Junior Lifeguard Programs in the area, but information for one of the programs can be found at This program accepts applications from children ages eight to 17.

Junior lifeguard hopefuls will be able to do, in part, what Steers did for the past 40 years, but they will not see Steers in the lifeguard tower anymore.

“I have finished the ladder of lifeguarding,” he said.

Steers and his wife reside in Santa Monica. Their two children, Benjamin, 27, and Julianne, 29, work as a software systems specialist for the city of Santa Monica and a curator at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, respectively.