A Family’s Extraordinary Service to Malibu

Jerry (left) and Ed Heinrich at Zuma Beach Tower 6 last weekend

One local family has been keeping watch over Malibu beaches and saving lives for 56 years. 

Six members of the Heinrich family can still be found lifeguarding today at Zuma Beach or nearby—a legacy started by the eldest of the clan whose brothers, son and nephews followed in his sandy footsteps keeping the tradition alive.

The legacy started nearly six decades ago in 1965, when Ed Heinrich got a job as a Los Angeles County lifeguard patrolling Zuma and the county’s northern beaches. Ed’s younger brother, Jerry, was the next Heinrich to become a county lifeguard, followed by their youngest brother, Dick. Years later, when all three Heinrichs had sons, they too were hired as guards and all six Heinrichs are still working today, typically patrolling Zuma Beach.

The eldest three Heinrichs grew up more than an hour’s drive from Malibu in Glendora. Middle brother Jerry still lives in Glendora where he runs a company, but at age 71 he continues the long commute to keep watch over Malibu beaches on the weekends.  

“I trade my weekday office for a blue office on stilts,” he said. Jerry started in 1968 and worked his way through college lifeguarding at Zuma. 

“I met so many neat people, enjoyed the job and, just like my brothers, I couldn’t leave it. I enjoy helping people—saving people. We’ve made so many good friends we hate to leave. It’s like leaving family,” Jerry said. He also admitted the job forces him to stay in shape.

Remarkably, the eldest Heinrich, Ed, at age 75, is still at it. Although Ed lives in Salt Lake City for most of the year, he comes to Malibu for the summers and works up to five days a week at Zuma or Leo Carrillo, according to brother Jerry.

In 2017, Ed was named a “Baywatch Hero” after winning six gold medals in the United States Lifesaving Association National Lifeguard Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Their younger brother, Dick, a retired school teacher, started lifeguarding in 1971. His free summers allowed him to join his brothers lifeguarding at Zuma. Now, at 67, Dick leaves his Utah home to spend summers guarding in Malibu, just like his big brother. He works a full-time schedule at Zuma and Point Dume beaches. 

Years ago, Jerry’s two sons, Chris, 42, and Tim, 35, along with Ed’s son Brad, 52, and Dick’s son Kyle, 36, all joined their fathers and uncles patrolling the beaches. Brad started at age 18. Kyle is a full-time “permanent at Zuma” guard, according to Jerry who added, “There were days when all seven of us would be working in towers either adjacent or close by at Zuma.”

Jerry estimates the three older Heinrichs over the years have made roughly 10,000 rescues. “When we consider all the ‘prevents’ we’ve made—preventing rescues from happening—that number gets pretty high,” Jerry reflected. “Our mom would say she’s responsible for saving more lives than maybe any other mother in the world.” Jerry praised Dick who, having worked every summer, has “probably made more rescues than any other lifeguard any place in the world in history.” 

“Dick sets the bar there,” his older brother said. “He doesn’t wait for things to happen. He spends the day down on the beach. Even at age 69, you’ll seldom see him in the tower.” In 1999, Dick Heinrich received the Lifeguard of the Year Award.

With no mandatory retirement age, according to Jerry, every late spring the guards take an ocean swim test. 

“It’s rigorous.  At our age, it would be easy to sleep in, but knowing lives are at stake if I’m not fast enough—it forces you to stay in shape,” Jerry said. “They don’t give us handicaps for our age. When you’re rescuing somebody, they don’t care if you’re 18 or 75 as long as you’re going to save them and get them to the beach safely.” 

But for the Heinrichs, the bond at Zuma goes beyond blood.

“It’s a family,” he said of the LA County lifeguard men and women.  “We risk our lives together. They’re my brothers and sisters.”