Surf Life Saving Association - History
The Surf Life Saving Association of America
was chosen to host the 1956 summer Olympics, lifesavers there
decided to hold an invitational lifesaving competition to be
known as the Australian Olympic International Surf Championships
at Torquay Beach, outside Melbourne, Victoria. The Honorable
Judge Adrian Curlewis of Australia appointed Arthur Parkens,
an Australian lifesaving instructor, to solicit participation
from the United States. California lifeguards and a contingent
from the Territory of Hawaii decided to participate. Both teams
were required trained and awarded, "The Australian Surflifesavers
Medallion," so as to meet the international competition standards
required for the event.
The California lifeguards organized themselves under the banner
of the Surf Life Saving Association of America (SLSA), although
they were solely from the Los Angeles County and Los Angeles
City lifeguard agencies. This was the first American lifeguard
association of its kind, even if its name was a bit grand considering
its narrow scope.
Team members from the SLSA included Team Captain Rusty Williams
of Los Angeles County (LACO), Team Coach Kirby Temple (LACO),
Team Manager Herb Barthels, Sr. of Los Angeles City (LACity),
Tad Devine (Santa Monica City), Bob Burnside (LACO), Mike Bright
(LACO), Gregg Knoll (LACO), Dave Ballinger (LACO), Chick McIlroy
(LACO), Paul McIlroy (LACO), Sheridan Byerly (LACO), and Roger
Jensen (LACO). The Hawaiian lifeguard team included Dr. Don
Gustuson, Team Manager Harry Shaeffer, Team Coach Tom Shaeffer,
Tom Moore, Tom Zahn, Dan Durego, Tim Guard, L. Honka, Peter
Balding, and Shaky Felez.
The event was held on November 26, 1956 and drew an immense
crowd of 115,000 spectators. The legendary "Duke" Paoa Kahanamoku
of Hawaii served as the honorary event Chairman. In addition
to the American and Australian teams, lifeguard teams from South
Africa, Great Britain, Ceylon, and New Zealand participated.
As for the Americans, the Hawaiian Territory placed first in
the Beach Relay. Tad Devine of California placed second in the
swim. Bob Burnside of California placed third in the belt race.
Perhaps more importantly than the competition itself, lifelong
relationships were built around this historic event and both
countries were to benefit tremendously. The American rescue
tube and rescue buoy were first introduced to Australia on this
tour, later to become staples of Australian lifesaving gear
as they were in the US. Tom Zahn, Tom Moore, and Bob Burnside
brought Malibu Balsa Surfboards with them, the first total Australian
exposure to the Malibu Surfboard. When they departed Australia,
the boards were left behind, which revolutionized surfing in
After the event, LA County Lifeguard Chief Bud Stevenson decided
to use SLSA in his efforts to upgrade professional lifeguarding.
Chief Stevenson appointed Bob Burnside as President of the nascent
organization and Lt. Don Hill as Secretary. Despite the broadly
embracing name of Surf Life Saving Association of America, the
early focus was to remain on Los Angeles County issues.
Bob Burnside called for representatives from as many Southern
California lifeguard agencies as possible to attend a concept
meeting at Santa Monica Lifeguard Headquarters in the winter
of 1963. In attendance were Vince Moorhouse (Huntington Beach),
Max Bowman (Huntington Beach), Don Rohrer (LA City), Dick Heineman
(LA City), Tim Dorsey (Seal Beach), host Jim Richards (Santa
Monica), and a representative from Long Beach.
The group agreed that they should establish a truly national
organization, based on the structure of the Australian association,
to be called the Surf Life Saving Association of America.
The early organization established Southern and Northern Chairmen
of the State of California, and a temporary Executive Board
was formed to establish a constitution, bylaws, and method of
equal representation for the association. This put in place
all the necessary criteria for affiliation with the organization
by local chapters, allowing each chapter to participate equally
in the first election of officers, which took place in 1965.
In the meantime, temporary chairmen took charge.
In 1964, Huntington Beach's newly dedicated lifeguard headquarters
was adopted as the center for SLSA activities. In that same
year, Howard Lee of LA County designed the national logo, which
is still in use today. His design was influenced by a similar
design that Tad Devine of the 1956 Australia team had created
for the team uniform. Both are strikingly similar to the logo
of the United
States Life-Saving Service, an arm of the United States
government, which had rescued shipwrecked sailors during the
1800s and 1900s, before being merged with the Revenue Cutter
Service to form the US Coast Guard.
The National Surf Life Saving Association of America is Born
In 1965, the SLSA title was dropped in favor of the National
Surf Life Saving Association (NSLSA) and the first election
officers of was held, at this time for a one-year term of office.
They were President Bob Burnside, Vice-President Dick Hazard
(San Clemente), Treasurer Max Bowman, Secretary Don Rohrer,
and Sergeant at Arms Tim Dorsey. The goals and objectives were
identified and weekly meetings were agreed upon, rotating among
different lifeguard headquarters for over a year. In another
1965 development, Australia was invited to send their national
competition team to compete in the US.
A year earlier, in 1964, ABC television's Wide World of Sports
had filmed a lifeguard competition at Huntington Beach. During
the competition, lifeguards Mike Henry and Pete Orth of Carpenteria,
California, lost control of their dory on a 10 foot wave and
crashed into the Huntington Beach pier. It became one of the
Great Moments of 1964, replayed repeatedly for television audiences
Building on this memory, in 1965 Wide World of Sports invited
the NSLSA and the touring Australian team, to fly to the East
Coast and compete in a first ever East Coast/West Coast lifeguard
competition. This televised, international event was held at
Montauk Point on Long Island, New York. At this event, the concept
of a truly national affiliation under the umbrella of NSLSA
took seed. Also in 1965, Santa Cruz became the first lifesaving
association outside Southern California to join.
The year 1966 saw a new election of officers, with Bob Burnside
remaining as president, Phil Stubbs of San Clemente as vice-president,
Jack Buck as Secretary, and Don Rohrer as treasurer, with Tim
Dorsey remaining as Sergeant at Arms. Also in 1966, the California
Chief Lifeguard Association, which had first formed in the late
1930s, reconvened and appointed Vince Moorhouse as chairman.
They conferred $431.80 from their association bank account to
the NSLSA treasury, along with their blessings and pledge to
support the organization.
On August 25, 1967, it was decided to change the term of office
to two years. Mike Henry of California State (north) was elected
president, Phil Stubbs of San Clemente remained vice-president,
Bob Burnside moved to secretary, Dick Heinemann of LA City as
treasurer, and Tim Dorsey continuing on as Sergeant at Arms.
In 1967, NSLSA sent a competition team to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
to compete in the first recognized East versus West lifeguard
championships, continuing the national affiliation concept among
all the agencies involved. Teams from New York to Miami and
the West Coast team battled it out in a rousing competition.
The East Coast/West Coast competition helped further an effort
to make NSLSA a truly national organization. Lt. Jim Holland
of the Miami Beach Patrol was appointed to act as East Coast
liaison for NSLSA. He was responsible for bringing into the
first Florida chapters into NSLSA: Miami Beach and Boca Raton.
Secretary Bob Burnside flew to Florida to tour Florida beaches
with Lt. Holland in an effort to further increase Eastern affiliations.
It was also during 1967 that the Australians invited the NSLSA
affiliated lifeguards back for a competition tour that included
several unusual feats. This included a stunning win by the 16
year old Huntington Beach lifeguard Spike Beck in the Australian
National Championship Junior Belt Race. At the New South Wales
championships Australian veteran "Spas" Hearst, Bob Burnside,
Paul Mathies (LACO), Jim Richards (Santa Monica), and Ruby Kroon
teamed up for a binational win in the surfboat race.
In 1969, the change in officers found Phil Stubbs elected president,
Bob Shea of San Diego vice president, Logan Lockabey of California
State secretary, Dick Heinemann treasurer, and Tim Dorsey still
watching the door as Sergeant at Arms. That year, the first
international educational exchange was undertaken with a visit
to Auckland, New Zealand by Max Bowman, Phil Stubbs, and Logan
Lockabey. It was also in that year that NSLSA received membership
in the Council for National Cooperation in Aquatics (CNSA).
In 1969 that the Dade County (Florida) Board of Supervisors
requested that NSLSA representatives journey to Miami and review
lifeguard procedures there in the wake of a rash of ocean drownings.
Bob Burnside and Phil Stubbs handled this task. The outcome
included recommendations that resulted in installation of a
communication system, new vehicles and equipment, new qualification
requirements, increased funding, and the hiring of Lt. Holland
as Chief of the Dade County Lifeguard Division. It was the first
demonstration of the potentially power of NSLSA to improve lifesaving
standards nationwide. In 1970 Hempstead Beach, New York joined
NSLSA. It was the first member chapter from the upper East Coast.
The NSLSA newsletter changed its name that year to Ocean Lifeguard
Magazine. The editor was Tim Dorsey.
World Life Saving was created in 1971 in Australia, to include
the national lifesaving federations of Australia, Great Britain,
New Zealand, South Africa, and the US. Chief Vince Moorehouse
of Huntington Beach was appointed the NSLSA International Liaison
In 1971, President Phil Stubbs was reelected, Eric Lucas of
Laguna Beach was elected vice president, Logan Lockabey remained
as secretary, Bill Ward became secretary, and Tim Dorsey stayed
on for another term as Sergeant at Arms. In that year, recommended
beach standards and certification were first completed for all
lifeguard classifications in an effort to improve standardization
and professionalism. Hempstead Beach withdrew their membership
that year, after only one year in the organization.
Two other organizations requested NSLSA professional help in
1971, Big Surf surf park in Tempe, Arizona and the State of
New York. In the case of the latter, a team of 11 members were
sent to help in training and appraisal of New York lifeguard
practices, but when they arrived they learned that they had
been summoned amidst a job action and were being enlisted to
ensure lifeguard protection in the case of a strike. This event
turned out to create some seriously bad feelings between New
York lifeguards and the NSLSA, which were not to subside for
In 1972, the Internal Revenue Service granted NSLSA tax-exempt
status as a not for profit, educational organization. World
Life Saving held its Board of Directors meeting in Huntington
Beach that year, the first international lifesaving meeting
in America. The NSLSA newsletter, under the title "Certification,"
also mentions that NSLSA was, "… preparing the groundwork for
a training certificate to be issued to newly trained lifeguards
[and] … studying a proposal from the YMCA of America to certify
lifeguards for that organization."
In 1973, the sixth Executive Board was elected to include Vince
Moorhouse as president, Eric Lucas as vice president, Buddy
Belshe of Newport Beach as secretary, Bill Ward as treasurer,
and Tim Dorsey sergeant at arms. That year also saw the development
of agreements on standardization of beach warning flags and
the first international training officers exam.
South Africa was the next destination for an education and competition
tour. An 11 man team was sent in 1974 that included Max Bowman,
John Patty (Long Beach), Tim Dorsey, Mark Bodenbender (Huntington
Beach), BI Gerald, (Huntington Beach), Buddy Belshe (Newport
Beach), Bill Owen (San Diego), Sheridan Byerly (San Clemente),
Richard Marks (LA City), Paul Mathies (LACO), and Topper Harock
In 1974, NSLSA conducted a site review and beach lifeguard service
survey for the City of Santa Cruz. This process demonstrated
potential of the NSLSA to help influence management of beach
lifesaving organizations. It was a process that was used many
times again in future years.
In 1975, Eric Lucas stepped up to become president, with Buddy
Belshe as vice-president, Dick Miller of Long Beach as secretary,
and Max Bowman as treasurer. Also in 1975, Vince Moorehouse
was elected president of World Life Saving.
The United States Lifesaving Association is Created
Over the years, NSLSA had been very successful in organizing
national and international exchanges of information, competitions,
and public education efforts to help reduce drowning. Progress
made initially to embrace East Coast agencies however, had languished
and the organization remained largely an association of California
lifeguards and a few chapters from Florida.
Some felt that the organization should remain a surf lifesaving
organization, barring participation from lifeguards at lakes,
rivers, and similar venues. Others felt that all lifeguards
at natural, open water locales should be eligible for membership.
One of these was Sheridan Byerly, who had been a member of the
1956 Australian team.
The 1977 elections were a turning point. It was anticipated
by many that Buddy Belshe would be elected president that year,
but in an unexpected upset, Sheridan Byerly was elected instead.
Considering that he had never been elected to an NSLSA post
before that time, his election was a surprising event. As it
turns out, it was to portend further change. In that same year,
Dick Miller was re-elected vice-president, Max Bowman treasurer,
and Larry Gibson of Newport Beach secretary. Partway through
the two-year term of office, Gibson resigned his post and Byron
Wear of San Diego was appointed to replace him. Wear would later
become the first USLA Executive Director. Many years later he
was to be elected to the San Diego City Council.
A priority for Byerly was the push to make NSLSA a truly national
organization. A debate occurred over opening the guidelines
for membership to allow personnel from lake, river and similar
venues. It was hotly contested as many felt that the association
should incorporate only ocean agencies and that bringing in
other areas that would not necessarily be year-round operations,
would shift the power to part time and non-ocean agencies, thus
creating a philosophical difference of priorities. Nonetheless,
Byerly persevered. Changes to the bylaws were drafted and plans
were laid to create regions throughout the United States with
their own presidents and executive boards.
In February 1979, Byerly and Wear took leave of their jobs and
began recruiting work in Florida, encouraging further participation.
At that time, Florida membership centered on Boca Raton and
Dade County. They met with lifeguards from many agencies, including
Joe Wooden and Tom Renick of Volusia County.
In May 1979, the NSLSA Board of Directors met in Santa Cruz,
knowing that the debate over broadening the membership scope
of the organization was coming to a head. President Byerly chaired
a meeting thick with heated and passionate discussion about
the course of the organization's future. Ultimately, the NSLSA
Board of Directors voted to change the name of the organization
to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) and adopt
the various bylaw changes that had been drafted. It was a truly
historic event, which set the stage for a broader and more embracing
organization. It was agreed that members could include, any
member of an ocean, bay, lake, river, or open water lifesaving
or rescue service, including chiefs, directors, and their equivalent.
Since that time, the United States Lifesaving Association, an
idea launched in California, has thrived, having a major and
very positive influence nationally over drowning prevention
and lifeguard training standards. The first truly national competition
was conducted in 1980 in San Diego, California under the USLA
banner, a tradition that has continued annually ever since.
The Southwest Region of the USLA incorporated under the name of Western United States Lifesaving Association on June 24, 1983. A Certificate of Amendment was validated on July 25, 1989, whereby the Western USLA became officially named the California Surf Lifesaving Association. Click HERE
to view the Articles of Incorporation and Certificate of Amendment.