Rescuing the good old days, for one jarring moment

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

I stood on the edge of the Huntington Beach pier and stared in disbelief at the swirling Pacific 35 feet below. This jump sure seemed a lot shorter 25 years ago when I was a summer lifeguard in Surf City.

But with a nice-sized crowd gathered along the railing, I couldn't turn back.

I asked Kyle Lindo, the chief lifeguard, if he had any advice.

"Rust never sleeps," he said. "Once you start falling, I'm sure you'll catch on again."

Thanks, chief.

If I waited any longer, I feared I'd be frozen in place. So without any more thought, I launched my middle-aged self into the air. Adrenaline filled my body as my arms flailed in decidedly un-lifeguard-like fashion. On the way down, I somehow forgot a key ingredient to pier jumps -- tuck your arms in before you make a splash. Mine smacked the water with such force that I had bruises for a week.

When I surfaced, I heard someone say, "Oh, man, that's gotta hurt."

Yeah, but what a rush. I had forgotten the thrill of lifeguarding. Claude Panis, who went through lifeguard training with me 30 years ago, picked me up on the speedboat in which he patrols the coastline. He looked tan, relaxed and healthy. I looked like I worked in the newsroom.

"I couldn't be happier," he said.

"Me too," I replied, meaning right at the moment. My four-summer lifeguard stint amounted to my glory days, and I looked back on them like a former high school football star savors his time on the gridiron. I always dreamed about going back and recapturing a bit of the magic. On a beautiful day near the end of summer, I got a second chance. To jump off a ridiculously high pier. To drop off the back of a speeding boat. To sprint from a lifeguard tower, swim through the surf and make a (faux) rescue.

Just like the old days. Except at 46, I was too tired to even think about going to any lifeguard party that night.

Next Tuesday: Bill Lobdell, as a member of the paparazzi, snaps a photo of a movie star in Beverly Hills.

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