Saving lives can be fun, games, too

When the United States Lifesaving Assn. National Lifeguard Championships get underway this week, Scott Diederich will be wearing the kelly green and white cap that is representative of the Laguna Beach Lifeguard Assn.

Diederich, a seasoned competitor in the annual event, is among a few Laguna Beach athletes who will join more than 1,000 lifeguards and junior lifeguards from across the country at the three-day event that began Thursday, continues today and concludes Saturday at Huntington State Beach at Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.

"It's a great competition," said Diederich, 44, a full-time professional lifeguard for Laguna Beach since 1991. He has been with the department either as a full-time or seasonal lifeguard since 1982.

"The events in this competition reflect some part of our job, ranging from ocean surf swim races to dory boat races, and everything in between," he said. "Ocean surf racing at the professional lifeguard level really does reflect the competitive nature of the job."

The competition is hosted by the Huntington State Beach Lifeguard Assn.

"We are excited to be the host of the premiere lifeguard event in the country," said Mike Beuerlein, Marine Safety Lieutenant for the city of Huntington Beach and region president of the California Surf Lifesaving Assn. "This event gives the lifeguards competing the chance to showcase the talents that they use on a daily basis to save lives. These men and women are premiere athletes, Olympic-type of athletes. Although this is a competition, this is three days for them to go out and have fun."

The event is taking place just a few blocks south of the Huntington Beach Pier, site of the U.S. Open of Surfing.

"It's definitely a first for that," Beuerlein said of the two events taking place simultaneously. "The stars haven't aligned like this before."

Professional lifeguards ranging in age from 17 to 75, and Junior lifeguards ages 9 to 17, will compete in both water and beach course events that highlight their lifesaving skills. Events include surf swims, beach runs, surf boats and paddleboards. Highlights include the Landline Rescue Relay, Ironman and Ironwoman events and Beach Flags, a competition dubbed, "the fastest event on sand."

The Lifeguard Men and Women and team divisions compete today and Saturday. Competition events start at 8 a.m. and run until the end of the day both days.

The Junior lifeguards competed Thursday.

"This is the granddaddy of all lifeguard competitions, bringing the best of the best from across the country," said Ed Zebrowski, Competition Committee chair for the USLA. "It's a fun-filled three days of action with competition and sponsor booths at one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. And it's free to the public."

Diederich, a 1984 graduate of Laguna Beach High where he swam and played water polo for four years, has been competing in lifeguard competitions since 1982. His first national championship competition was in "1983 or 84," he said. Through the years, he's won one open national title — a rescue board race in 1997 at San Diego — and has several top-10 finishes to his credit. In age group racing, he's accumulated several national titles. He last won age group (40-44) titles in the Ironman and swim event at the 2008 national championships in Hermosa Beach.

At the last national championship event held in Huntington Beach in 2006, Diederich, who said he's competed in age group racing since 1995, finished fifth in the paddle board event.

He said he "tries" to get in 12 workouts per week and "maintain a consistent balance" of workouts during the summer months.

Diederich does a portion of his training in the pool and on the track at his alma mater.

"I have been very luck to have a good core group of friends to train with that share the same passion for ocean racing," he said. "They give me inspiration, and I give them a workout. The majority of this group lives in Laguna Beach and have quite an aquatics background. Some are businessmen, and a few in the group have done the Molaki Race in Hawaii, which is very impressive. It's a fun, eclectic group of people that enjoy training together."

Lifeguard competition in the U.S. is based on Surf Lifesaving competitions in Australia. The first national competitions in the U.S. were organized by the Surf Life Saving Assn. of America, which in 1965 became national as the NSLSA. The first competition between coasts was held in 1967. The NSLSA later became the USLA and the first National Lifeguard Competition was held in 1980 in San Diego.

Last year's competition was held in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Matthew Nunnally of Monmouth County Chapter, N.J., won the men's overall title and Tracey Crothers from the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Assn. took the women's title. Craig Lumb, president of the Huntington State Beach Lifeguard Assn. and the event's organizer, said both Nunnally and Crothers will be back to defend their individual titles.

The Los Angeles Co. Lifeguard Assn. won the Large Chapter Team title for the 23rh consecutive year. Monmouth County Chapter (New Jersey) was second. The Small Chapter team title went to Fort Lauderdale.

Since the competition began in 1970, the Los Angeles Co. Lifeguards have won the team title 36 times. The California State Parks team won the title three times. Monmouth County is the only non-California team to win the event, doing so in 1983.

The National Lifeguard Championships are held on alternating coasts each year. Next year, the event takes place in August at Cape May, N.J.

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