Writing Lifeguard History

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Richard Mark was honored by the Professional Lifeguarding Foundation on Oct. 24.

On a sunny Saturday morning at Cypress Sea Cove, Los Angeles County Lifeguard legend and longtime Malibu resident Richard Mark entered his home’s historic dining room, which contains scrapped floorboards from the U.S.S Los Angeles, and revealed another piece of history — a 4,000-page work honoring LA County Lifeguards’ first 100 years of service. After laying five thick volumes on the dining table, Mark sat down with The Malibu Times and told the story behind them.

He explained that the lengthy work came about unintentionally, beginning as a gift to those who attended a retirement event planned for him at the conclusion of his 40 years of service as an LA County Lifeguard. 

“There were over 100 guests,” he said, recalling his surprise at the turnout. “I decided I was going to write something about each person and how much I appreciated working with them.” 

What was meant to be a simple gift of gratitude resulted in 40 pages of text and photos. Soon after the gift was copied and distributed, other lifeguards began requesting copies. 

“Every time people asked for it, I kept adding to it,” Mark said. “People began sending me photos and other information. One thing led to another and, eight years later, there are 4,000 pages.” 

The history’s photos and stories span from the county’s first ocean lifeguards in 1908 to modern lifeguarding practices 100 years later in 2008. The longest section contains biographical information of those who have served, which are arranged alphabetically instead of chronologically, as part of Mark’s effort to portray unity.

“I figured that, if I could highlight a rookie lifeguard next to a chief lifeguard, it would show that they’re all one group of people and one team,” he said. “The ability to become an ocean lifeguard is what distinguishes them.”

Significant achievements of certain lifeguards are described in their biographies. The biography of Malibu lifeguard and director of “Baywatch” Greg Bonann, for example, is combined with a history of the popular TV series.

The work also contains histories of every LA County beach, including photos of their evolution and copies of paintings submitted by artists. Mark explained the histories of Zuma and Surfrider beaches contain photos and information dating back to the mid 20th century. 

Only 10 hard copies of Mark’s work have been printed so far, but the complete history, titled “Our L.A. Lifeguard Family,” is available online at Google Books.

While Mark focused much of his work on the careers and accomplishments of his comrades, his own career is just as significant. 

Mark spent the first 10 of his 40 years of service as a full-time guard before combining lifeguarding with a successful career in real estate development. Working on Baywatch Malibu — a position he had for 20 years — was his favorite role.

Mark’s other career accomplishments include co-authoring the first ocean lifeguarding textbook in the 1970s and receiving the Los Angeles County Fire Department Volunteer of the Year Award.

Becoming a lifeguard was not easy for Mark. He came in 32nd in a swim test where only the top 30 qualified for the Lifeguard Training Academy but, not taking “no” for an answer, he attended the academy anyway. He was offered a schedule on the beach after three weeks of persistence.

Persistence is a common theme in Mark’s life, from becoming a guard and writing his books to fighting his current battle with spinal cancer. He continues to live an active lifestyle while going through chemotherapy by swimming multiple times per week with his wife Charmaine and taking daily walks to the beach on his property. Mark and his wife also cook natural homemade foods, which he says helped him recover after treatments. 

“When you believe in something, no matter how difficult it is, I think it’s important to continue to try,” he said. “I could either end up in a negative situation or a positive one, so I chose to overcome the negatives.” 

Mark received another award for his career when he received a yearly honor from the Professional Lifeguarding Foundation at the end of October of this year.

“Being part of [the L.A. County Lifeguards] is a privilege and a gift,” he said. “You meet people who you will develop lifelong bonds with.”

Mark says these lifelong bonds are the inspiration behind “Our L.A. Lifeguard Family.”

“I wanted to honor the people I worked with with somewhat of a family album,” he said. “It was a labor of love.”