The Judge Irvin Taplin Lifeguard Medley Relay Championship was conceived and presented to Bud Stevenson, former Chief Lifeguard and the first Assistant director of the Los Angeles County Department of Beach, in 1936. Bud was smitten with the idea of the event and felt it had considerable merit and, of course, it could be incorporated in show casing lifeguarding in the Southern California area.
The relay as it was originally conceived consisted of four swimmers, four paddlers, and four two-man dory teams. This allowed the individual lifeguard services an opportunity to show case the various skills incorporated in life saving.
The prominent lifeguard services at that time consisted of Los Angeles County under the leadership of Bud Stevenson, Los Angeles City under the leadership of Myron Cox, the Long Beach lifeguard service under the leadership of Dutch and Vic Miller, and the Santa Monica Lifeguard service under the tutelage of Captain George Watkins.
Bud Stevenson felt that an event of this type needed an appropriate award so he approached Judge Irvin Taplin, a Los Angeles County Municipal Court Judge and former Los Angeles City lifeguard and from that moment on the event has been referred to as the Taplin relay.
The first two years of competition – 1936 and 1937 – were won by the Los Angeles County lifeguards. In 1938, Los Angeles City won the event followed in 1939 by the Santa Monica City lifeguards. Santa Monica repeated its win in 1940 with the Los Angeles County lifeguards winning the coveted award in 1941 and retiring the original trophy having won three competitions.
During the war years from 1942 until 1946, the event was discontinued, however, with the return of the troops and added interest in the beach communities, particularly in Los Angeles County, the event was restored in 1947. The official results of 1947 and 1948 are not known. But in 1949, the Taplin bell came into existence.
The Taplin bell reads “The Judge Irvin Taplin Perpetual Trophy. The Southern California Lifeguard Medley Relay Championships”, and is bedecked with the names of all the winners from 1949 to the present including individual team members names as well as the winning lifeguard service.
The bell itself was discovered by former Los Angeles County Lifeguard Chief Bud Stevenson after returning from his tour of duty in World War II. The story has it that while on Terminal Island at a scrap metal and supply yard while looking for a chain and anchor for the original Baywatch in 1947, Bud came across a rather familiar looking ships bell. After closer examination, he discovered it as indeed familiar for during World War II he had served on the tanker “F. H. Hillman” and this was her bell.
Bud mentioned this to the yard superintendent and inquired as to the cost of purchasing the bell. Bud wanted to take the bell home as a memento of his time spent on her. However, he was informed that the bell would cost $4.00 a pound and with the bell’s weight about 84 pounds, it came out to a then exceptionally high $256.00. Reiterating the fact that he had served on the “F. H. Hillman” to the yard superintendent, he found the gentleman still unmoved
Bud picked up the chain and anchor he had purchased and headed back to the South Bay, however, he didn’t let the matter stop there. Upon returning to his home, he went through his personal effects and came across a photograph of himself standing next to the bell on board ship. He took the photograph and his discharge papers from the service and returned to the salvage yard that same day. The superintendent was so impressed with the fact that Bud had been telling him the truth he sold him the bell on the spot for $25.00. But returned with the bell and placed it under his bed for the next two years.
In 1949, with the return of the Taplin Relay competition, Bud felt that this bell mounted would be most appropriate as a perpetual trophy. Judge Taplin was in full agreement and so Bud donated this very personal memento to the lifeguard world. The bell is now beautifully mounted on a solid wood base and represents to lifeguards around the world the spirit of friendly competition.
In 1949, official records were once again kept as to the results of the Taplin competitions. The Los Angeles County lifeguards dominated the event from 1949 to 1952. In 1953, the Los Angeles City lifeguards, with such outstanding watermen as Peter Cole, Buzzy Trent, and Kit Horn, upset the highly favored Los Angeles County team and took the bell to the beaches at Venice for the year.
However, beginning once again in 1954, The Los Angeles County lifeguards ran off a string of ten straight victories until 1963. In 1964 and 1965, the California State lifeguards from Carpenteria under the directorship of Mike Henry and his fine field general, Paul Hodgert, broke the chain. Los Angeles County regained it winning form in 1966 and 1967. In 1968, Newport Beach in one of its first appearances in the Taplin event took home the bell from the County. From 1969 until 1976, the Taplin was dominated by the Los Angeles County lifeguards. In 1977, because of the merger between the Los Angeles City, Santa Monica and Los Angeles County lifeguard services, the Los Angeles County team split into three separate Taplin teams (L.A. County Southern Section, L.A. County Central Section, and L.A. County Northern Section).
In 1977 the Taplin was won by the Los Angeles County Southern Section. In 1978 and 1979, the Los Angeles County Central Section was the Taplin champion. In 1980 through 1982 the bell went back to the Los Angeles County Southern Section. 1983 was the start of a victory run for the Los Angeles County Northern Section who won the race from 1983 through 1986. In 1987, Olympian Mitch Kahn led the California State Southern lifeguards to a Taplin victory. This victory by the California State lifeguards broke a twenty year win streak for Los Angeles County lifeguards.
In 1988 the Los Angeles County Northern Section went on another streak by winning the Taplin from 1988 through 1992. In 1993 and 1994, the bell went back to the Southern Section. In 1995 the Los Angeles County Central Section was victorious. The Southern Section regained the bell by winning the Taplin from 1996 through 2004. In 2005 a team comprised of mostly Los Angeles County Jr. Lifeguard instructors won the Taplin relay. The bell returned to the Southern Section in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, the L.A. County Central went on a winning streak from 2008 through 2013. In 2014, the Southern Section won the Taplin relay and they are the current defending champions.
Over the years numerous teams from Australia (primarily from the State of Victoria) have competed in the Judge Taplin Medley Relay. The event became so popular with the Australian visitors that when the Australian’s returned home, they created their own version of the Taplin relay which consists of two swimmers, two paddlers, and two surf ski paddlers. The Australian “Taplin Relay” is the most popular lifesaving event in Australia, but very few of the Australian lifesavers would have any idea where the event or event name comes from.
Thanks to Bud Stevenson and Judge Irvin Taplin the “Judge Irvin Taplin Lifeguard Medley Relay” is oldest and most prestigious lifeguard competition event in United States and the most popular lifesaving event in Australia.