Some of California's top lifeguards anxiously awaited the sound of the starter's gun to prove their skills at the 2014 California Surf Lifesaving Assn. Regional Competition in Huntington Beach on Saturday.
The 32nd annual two-day event, which showcased competition between junior lifeguards Friday and adult ocean lifeguards Saturday, brought out the best of the best to Huntington State Beach at Newland Street.
Competitors participated in a range of activities including ocean swims, beach runs, paddleboarding and boat races. Some also challenged themselves in the Ironman and Ironwoman events.
Nearly 30 agencies were represented, including Los Angeles County, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Santa Cruz.
The strongest agency would win the title California's Best Lifeguards.
The California Surf Lifesaving Assn, or CSLSA, competition is open to all California lifeguards and junior lifeguards who are members of the United States Lifesaving Assn. — the organization chartered to promote beach safety awareness and professional open-water lifesaving standards.
"The best part is seeing the lifeguards display the skills utilized every day to save lives along the coast," said Michael Beuerlein, president of the CSLSA.
Jay Butki, competition chair of the CSLSA and paramedic rescue boat captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department echoed Beuerlein's words.
"I'm proud of the lifeguards in Southern California who show their fitness and their skills to keep beachgoers safe," Butki said.
Brian Murphy, one of the top competitors in the world, represented L.A. County.
"I had an option to come to another event or this lifesaving event and I chose this one," Murphy said. "I grew up doing this and these people are my family."
Murphy, who won the grueling Ironman event by a wide margin, will go on to compete at the national competition in Virginia Beach, and then join an elite group of 12 to prepare for the international lifesaving sport event, Rescue 2014-France, in September.
Aaron Peirsol, the five-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, competed for Newport Beach Lifeguards.
"It's very different for me because of the dynamic and it's a relaxed atmosphere," he said of the race. "This is a friendly competition."
Joel Gitelson, 66, who retired in 2012 from his job protecting beachgoers in L.A. County, competed in the swim, paddleboarding, surf ski and Ironman competitions and said he was proud of finishing 11th out of 23.
"It's a little more significant because the first 10 were younger," he said.
Gitelson, who served in Catalina, said the island is a popular place for scuba divers because of the clear water but added he had only himself and his staff to rely on during an emergency.
"We were the sole responders," he said. "We were with the patients for a long time before they're released to get medical attention."
Many times, visitors would camp in a cove and Gitelson would first have to find them, get them out and then find a way to get them to the mainland.
He said he relies on his endurance and extensive swimming training for the surf lifesaving race, and continues the grueling swimming practices for his health.
"I'm constantly preparing because it keeps my back loose," he said.
Beuerlein was pleased with the event's promotion of beach safety awareness, specifically the goal of preventing injuries, accidents and death at open-water beaches.
"Recent events have served as powerful reminders of how important fitness and endurance are in the aquatic environment," he said. "The events in this competition test those skills."