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2000 Surf Festival Dinner Honorees



2000 Medal of Valor Honorees


Ocean Lifegaurd Captain Sonny Vardeman

Sonny Vardeman served as a Los Angeles County Ocean Lifeguard for 38 years, retiring in 1993 as a Captain Ocean Lifeguard. 


This is not the first time Sonny has been recognized for a heroic act.  In 1981, Sonny was presented with the first Lifeguard Medal of Valor for climbing into the cockpit of a plane that crashed off Avenue C in Redondo Beach and pulling the pilot out of the plane and to safety.  That feat also earned Sonny the FAA Distinguished Service Medal.


On Saturday, May 27th, Sonny was out for his early morning run on the beach in Hermosa.  It was Memorial Day weekend, the weather was warming up, and large crowd was beginning to build.  As Sonny was running in south Hermosa, he noticed a father and three boys standing on a sandbar.  Just then a large wave knocked the family off their feet and the three boys were swept off the sandbar in a large rip current.


In spite of having retired as a lifeguard 7 years earlier, Sonny immediately responded.  Without the availability of any flotation equipment, he sprinted to the waters edge and swam to the victims who were now screaming for help.  Sonny realized that the best he could do would be to keep the three boys afloat for as long as possible.  He did this by holding them on his arms and going up and down off the bottom.


Lifeguards from the Hermosa headquarters noticed the situation and immediately responded with lifeguards on rescue trucks and a Baywatch Rescue Boat.  As a result of Sonny’s immediate response and the skills developed over the years as an expert lifeguard, he was able to keep the three victims afloat until the lifeguards arrived.  The victims were all pulled safely to shore a major tragedy was averted.


2000 Lifetime Achievment Honoree


Deputy Director Department of Beaches Bob Burnside

Bob Burnside is the recipient of the 2000 Los Angeles County Lifeguard Achievement award.  Bob Burnside began his career as a Los Angeles County Lifeguard in 1951 and retired in 1982.  The first 25 years were spent at Zuma beach.  Turing the last half dozen years of service, he served as the Chief Lifeguard and then Deputy Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches.


Bob was a motivator, a promoter, a man who was totally and completely involved in lifeguarding and incredibly dedicated to the profession.  He was a fearsome competitor.  He was an 8-time high school and collegiate All-American swimmer.  He is a 10-time age division World Bodysurfing champion, and in 1989 (at the age of 59) won the overall World Grand-Championship.


Bob Burnside’s name is synonymous with surf-lifesaving worldwide.  As a member of the 1956 and 1967 competition teams that toured Australia, he saw the value of lifeguards working together to improve the profession.  As a result, he helped establish and was the first president of what is now the United States Lifesaving Association.


He holds an Australian Instructors Bronze Medallion, a New Zealand Lifesaving Bronze Medallion, and Canadian and British Royal Lifesaving certificates.  Bob was the first certified Los Angeles County Scuba Instructor, and a long time member of the lifeguard “Underwater Recovery Unit”.  Bob holds a Certified United States Coast Guard “Boat Operators” license.


Bob was instrumental in raising the level of training for the beach lifeguards.  He succeeded in getting all the full time lifeguards trained as EMT providers.  He also got lifeguards at Catalina and at Zuma beach certified as paramedics to provide the level of medical services to those beach constituents.


In 1970, after witnessing numerous accidents caused by the metal lifeguard cans, Bob designed and produced the revolutionary “Burnside Rescue Can”.  The lifeguard can which is constructed from a new rotational molding process is made out of plastic and provides handles for rescue victims to hold onto while being rescued.  The revolutionary “rescue can” replaced the metal rescue cans throughout the world and is still the standard used today.


Even in retirement Bob continues to advance lifesaving.  He secured a station and equipment in Porto Escondido, Mexico, and formed “Club Tortuga,” a non-profit group dedicated to the advancement of lifesaving, water safety programs, and junior lifeguard training in Costa Rica and other areas in Latin America.

2000 Burnside
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