2003 Surf Festival Dinner Honorees
2003 Medal of Valor Honorees
Lifeguard Captain Tom Seth
On Wednesday, January 22, Captain Tom Seth noticed a small group of surfers in the large tumultuous rip current off 45th Street. Two surfers in particular seemed to be having trouble staying on their boards, and were being pounded by the 8-10 foot surf. Tom entered the water on a rescue board, and paddled to a female surfer outside the shore break. He assisted her back on her board, and directed her to follow the current out to sea. Tom then yelled for a male surfer on the inside to paddle out to him, but the victim was too weak and tired to attempt it. Tom paddled into the shore break area, and as he reached the victim, they were hit by a stormy, doubled up wave, over 10 feet tall. Rather than punch back through the wave alone, and then make a second attempt to get to the victim, Tom reached for the man, grabbed him, and took them both underwater while still holding on to the 11-foot rescue board. The wave broke on the rocks, pushing both Tom and the victim into the rocks, and generating a splash that soaked onlookers standing 20-feet higher up on top of the breakwall.
Tom dragged the victim into the current, away from the rocks, ducking through numerous waves, and managed to simultaneously loosen the victim’s surfboard leash and ditch the victim’s broken surfboard. He then quickly paddled down the beach to a safe sandbar, where he dropped off the victim. He then ran up the beach, drove down to the main station, where he launched the PWC (personal water craft) to use in the rescue of the female victim.
Ocean Lifeguard Scott Moore
At 7:00 p.m., on October 18, Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Scott Moore was stationed aboard Baywatch del Rey as the deckhand. The Baywatch, along with the Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol Boat, responded to a 28-foot power vessel, being washed upon the Marina’s detached breakwater. The boat had become disabled while setting lobster traps, and all three occupants had been thrown into he water.
The Harbor Patrol immediately picked up one of the victims, who had swum to safety, away from the rocks. Using their spotlight in the pitch-black conditions, Baywatch found the other two victims being pushed up against the rocky breakwall. Their boat was being repeatedly smashed into the rocks right next to the victims, and the area was strewn with floating lines and boat debris. With no backup, Scott leapt off the Baywatch with a rescue tube, and headed for the rocks. Negotiating the lines and debris, in the dark, Scott had to swim between the boat and the rocks, timing his approach with the large swells and backwash. Reaching the victims, Scott kept an unconscious man afloat, while assisting the other victim to higher ground. In the process, Scott’s wetsuit was shredded on the rocks. Scott then had to make his way back to the boat, avoiding those same hazards, only this time with an unconscious victim in tow. As he proceeded back to the Baywatch, his victim stopped breathing, and Scott had to maintain an airway and initiate rescue breathing. Once on board, Scott performed CPR until relieved by fire paramedics. Unfortunately, he expired on the way to the hospital.
Ocean Lifeguard Bill White
On January 28, Ocean Lifeguard Bill White was on patrol in the El Porto area as darkness approached. The surf was double overhead, and in the distance Bill observed a single surfer making no progress in the large rip off 45th Street. Each successive wave pushed the surfer closer to the rocks. Bill raced to the scene, quickly grabbed the rescue board, and launched across the rip towards the victim, barely skirting the edge of the rocks as he paddled. A large set approached, which, if they didn’t move out to sea, would throw both Bill and the victim onto the jagged rocks, Bill reached the victim, and quickly discarded the victim’s leash and surfboard. The victim was too exhausted and panicked to follow Bill’s instructions, and couldn’t grab the rescue board, so Bill had to abandon the board, and swim the victim through the set of waves while holding the victim onto the rescue can. Once safely offshore and away from the rocks and dangerous current, Bill swam the victim over 500-yards back to the beach.
2003 Distinguished Service Honorees
Lifeguard Rescue Boat Captain Bill Robinson
Lifeguard Rescue Boat Captain Andrew Gregor
On December 19, Captains Robinson and Gregor were stationed on the Baywatch in Marina del Rey. It was a stormy night, with a driving rain and intermittent squalls, 25 to 30 knot winds, 8 – 10 foot seas, and very poor visibility. At approximately 10:00 p.m., they received a call from the U. S. Coast Guard regarding a small sailboat in danger of going aground on Palos Verdes. The Baywatch immediately responded, and met the vessel off the Portuguese Bend area of Palos Verdes. The vessel, operating erratically, was now 5-miles offshore and heading into even worse weather conditions out in the main channel. Baywatch escorted the vessel under illumination provided by the U. S. Coast Guard helicopter, and the vessel then headed back towards Los Angeles Harbor. Unfortunately, the helicopter had to leave the scene to refuel, so Baywatch was left alone with a vessel with no running lights, and little control. As the vessel neared the harbor, it bounced off the rocky breakwall several times, and Andrew had to prepare to swim a towline to the vessel, or a rescue can to the victim. Three hours after the initial call for help, Baywatch escorted the vessel into the safety of the harbor. The skipper, the only person on board, was found to be extremely confused and hypothermic.
Ocean Lifeguard Mike Murphy
In early September, after Labor Day and the “official” end of summer, off-duty Ocean Lifeguard Mike Murphy was on a long paddleboard workout around the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Rounding Haggerty’s Point, Mike observed a car go over the cliff, coming to rest in waist deep water. The car was pinned against the rocks inside the surge zone. Mike immediately swam in to assist, leaving his board with his workout partner. While County Firefighters worked to extricate the single victim, Mike climbed inside the vehicle to stabilize the driver’s head and neck. Mike continued to stabilize the victim despite the surge of the seawater washing in through the vehicles broken windows, and once the victim was extricated, he assisted in preparing the patient to be airlifted. After the patient had departed Mike swam back out to his paddleboard and continued his workout.
2003 Lifetime Achievement Honoree
Sonny Vardeman is the recipient of the 2003 Los Angeles County Lifeguard Achievement award. Sonny Vardeman joined the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Service in 1955 and played an important role in the County’s professional progression during his 38-year career. Sonny worked in the South Bay for the majority of his career and was capable in any assignment. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1974 and was in charge of the Redondo Beach lifeguards. In 1975, the Santa Monica lifeguards merged with the Los Angeles County Lifeguards and Sonny was reassigned to Santa Monica to assist with the merger. Sonny’s calm professional leadership style made him a popular supervisor during the change over and insured a smooth transition.
When the television show “Baywatch” began filming on the County beaches, Sonny was assigned as the technical advisor to review the script and help protect the image of the Los Angeles County Lifeguards. He made David Hasselhoff get a haircut and showed him the proper way to carry a surfboard. Unfortunately he couldn’t get him to take off his white sock and jogging shoes when walking on the sand.
Sonny has twice received the Lifeguard Division’s most distinguished award, the Medal of Valor. In 1980, Sonny was honored for rescuing the pilot and passenger from a small plane that crashed into the surf off Redondo Beach. During the rescue, Sonny performed CPR on the pulseless, non-breathing pilot, who later recovered from the injuries. For this rescue, he was also honored with the FAA’s Distinguished Service Medal. Seven years after Sonny retired, Sonny received his second Medal of Valor in 2000 for a dramatic triple rescue off the southern end of Hermosa Beach. This rescue was performed with no back-up, and no rescue equipment.
Sonny has always been an avid surfer and big wave rider. He was also a surfboard manufacturer in Hermosa Beach. As a surfing pioneer, Sonny has the honor of being one of small group of surfers who has been inducted into the Hermosa Beach “Surfers Walk of Fame”.
A dedicated competitor throughout his career and in retirement, Sonny competed on two victorious Taplin teams, numerous Intracrew championships, and was a four time National Dory Champion in the master’s division. He was also a proponent of expanding lifeguard competitions to showcase the diverse talents, skills, and professionalism of lifeguards throughout the world. In this role, he participated in the Wieland Shield competition with Australian and New Zealand, organized the first US Surfboat Association, and directed the “Ocean Thunder” surfboat tour of New Zealand and Australia. Upon Sonny’s retirement, the Southern Section created the Vardeman Award in his honor, presented to deserving lifeguards “in recognition for athletic excellence in lifeguard competition, inspirational leadership, and dedication to the lifesaving profession.”