Beach Power Lounging: Go for the Bronze

Craig Elledge, beach lover, beach promoter, beach volley ball basher, said the word he received from Florida turned his legs to wet sand.

"What a great idea, I said to myself, and so typical for Southern California. I said: 'OK, you couch potatoes, you lounge lizards, you beach bums. Your sport is here.' "

Or was this perhaps a client's notion ahead of its moment?

To make sure, Elledge, 28, and a team from Group Dynamics of Santa Monica (organizers of many beach scenes, including a 24-city volleyball contest) held a trial run at Loyola Marymount.

"It was the biggest thing since canceled finals," Elledge remembers. "Incredible enthusiasm . . . I knew then that this was the young sport of the '80s.

"Unlike 10K runs, aerobics and body building, this is an activity where you don't have to get active. You don't have to work out. You just go out there and do your best."

And should contestants fall asleep in mid-meet . . . well, that could be considered a world-class performance at today's West Coast Inaugural California-Coppertone Power Lounging Competition.

Open to anyone who shows up with ideas for creating the ultimate suntanning arena, the contest will run through early afternoon at Will Rogers Beach, Pacific Palisades.

First prize is $500. Coppertone is on the house but bring your own zinc oxide. Each contestant must perform inside a 12-foot square measured by stretching two 6-foot lifeguards end to end.

Within that space may be piled all the tools of mahogany tans and seaside hedonism: TV sets, icemakers, VCRs, umbrellas, fans . . . and don't bet against someone bringing a portable tanning machine.

The event, of course, is hideously Southern California and guaranteed to make the would-you-believe-these-bozos segment of European newscasts.

Yet, as Elledge points out, sunshine and the beach and the wide outdoors is life style in Southern California. So why not pay homage to our assets?

He has examined, via volleyball promotions, beach scenes at most coastal states. Nowhere but California, he says, is the beach a regional heritage: "In New Jersey, it's a real challenge to get people to sit in the sand. I guess they're not used to it.

"In Florida, you won't see people arriving on the beach with towels, coolers, umbrellas, radios and barbecues because everyone is part of a tour or on vacation. Just when they're acclimated to the beach, it's time to go back to Wisconsin.

"But in Southern California, guys who surf and play volleyball show up at the beach with shorts over their Speedos. That's experience."

Despite our assumed indolent edge, lounging as a pro sport began on the East Coast. Currently, it plays a seven-city circuit in Florida. It also has established new standards for those who thought the ultimate in beachcraft was finding any patch of empty sand on Labor Day.

"One man brought his brass bed," said Melissa Tuttle, a Coppertone representative in Tampa. "At Clearwater, a group brought a couch, table, refrigerator, armchairs . . . and set up a living room without walls.

"My favorite was a man in a hammock. As he swung back and forth it tugged a rope that pulled a hand that fanned him at the same time. Just like 'Gilligan's Island.' "

Therein lies a seed of controversy dividing power loungers. Devices such as a hammock-powered fan require fuel no noisier than man's ingenuity. But margarita blenders need electricity, and that means rackety gasoline generators.

"We're allowing generators this year, but I don't think they're a great idea," Elledge said. "The point of the contest is to create something for the beach, not duplicate what you've got at home."

Tuttle disagrees: "If your city allows generators on the beach, why not bring the kitchen sink? But I can see the writing on the wall for generators."

I may have written it.

But then my ideal beach requires only three items.

Two beers and John Le Carre.

Power Lounging Competition, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., today at Will Rogers Beach, Pacific Coast Highway at Temescal Canyon Road. (213) 452-5056.

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