Three Malibu lifeguards win big at National Lifeguard Championships

Three Malibu lifeguards just won bragging rights and top awards at the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) Lifeguard Championships. The event, held last week in Hermosa Beach, pitted the best and toughest ocean lifeguard athletes from agencies around the nation. Their physical prowess and competitiveness were on display to be crowned the best ocean lifeguards in the country. 

At the three-day event that wrapped up Aug. 13, the county lifeguards who all work Zuma Beach took top honors in various events featuring professional ocean lifeguards. Participants are tested on their fitness, speed, skill, and endurance in the water.

One local winner is Holly Maine, a seasonal lifeguard at Zuma. At just 22, Maine has been patrolling Malibu beaches as a county guard for five years. She grew up training with Junior Lifeguards at Zuma since the age of 12. “That’s been my home beach,” said the winner of the individual board race and the three-person relay with teammates Kelsey Cummings and Coral Kemp. Maine and Cummings also won in board rescue. 

Winning the individual race was a dream of Maine’s since competing as a junior guard. 

“I won multiple times as a junior in that paddle, but when you turn 18 you enter into the open division. It’s a whole new playing field,” she said.

Maine won her event against 60 others. She paddled prone roughly 600 meters on a 10-foot-long narrow board in windy, choppy conditions. Training at windy Zuma Beach was helpful to Maine who worked “a full tower shift” then trained on her free time after work.

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Zuma lifeguard Chris Javens competed in five events winning first place in the Men’s Open Taplin relay. Javens got the winning time sprinting to the finish line on foot while his teammates competed swimming, on paddle boards and ski paddling in the relay over an Ironman course. The Taplin event is the big finale of the Nationals and has several team members each doing a skill: swim, board, ski and a sprint to the finish. 

Lifeguards nationwide compete for the top awards at the United States Lifesaving Association Lifeguard Championships in Hermosa Beach on Aug. 12. Photos courtesy of Joel Gitelson.

“That race was one of the best down to the wire finishes that I’ve ever seen. Real nail biter,” said Adam Sandler, LA County Surf Life Saving Association Public Information Officer. 

Another winner was Ed Heinrich who has had an amazing career as a LA County lifeguard. He started in 1965 at the age of 18. Now at age 76, the ever-youthful Heinrich, who lives in Sandy, Utah, still works summers at Zuma a couple of days a week. He stays with his son on Point Dume.

Heinrich won a whopping seven events including a run/swim/run, 2K beach run, surf-ski race, Ironman, surf race, paddleboard race, and a beach flags event all in his age group of 75+. 

“I can’t compete with the young kids,” he said modestly. 

This would be Heinrich’s 58th summer as a lifeguard, but he pointed out he missed five years during the Vietnam War when he served as a pilot. He is a retired commercial airline pilot who doesn’t lifeguard to earn extra money. He keeps coming back to Zuma because of “the camaraderie with the people and the love of being out on the beach. I still like it. That’s why I’m working today,” he said over the phone as he was rushing to get to his tower. 

Over his nearly six-decade career, Heinrich estimates he’s made over 1,000 rescues. Although he is considering retiring from lifeguarding, Heinrich remains quite active in the winter, teaching skiing and snowboarding in Utah. 

“These are my retirement jobs,” he said. “I tell everybody I don’t have to do it financially, but I’m living a 20-year-old’s dream life. I really am. I’m having so much fun.” 

Heinrich, his two brothers, son and nephews have all been lifeguards at Zuma Beach. There were days when all seven Heinrichs could be found in towers either adjacent or close by at Zuma.

“The National Lifeguard Championships is a unique event which showcases — in a highly competitive environment — the lifesaving techniques used daily by these lifeguards,” wrote Jay Butki, President of the Los Angeles County Surf Lifesaving Association.

Malibu represented well. And “Malibu is the nicest place to work in the world,” commented Maine.

Photo courtesy Joel Gitelson.

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