In The Beginning

Clifford Frank Russell 1937
San Clemente’s First Beach Lifeguard.


Clifford Frank Russell was San Clemente’s first full time lifeguard (1937-1940). Clifford was sent to Long Beach for 10 days of training then provided with a uniform including pants and City jacket. From its earliest days San Clemente considered beach safety a top priority. A tradition that continues today. The following link is an interview with Clifford in 2006 created 6 months before he passed away. (video (12min))


First Lifeguard Tower: 1937

firsttower1Note the arrow to the left below. firsttower

Just south of the pier was the first San Clemente Lifeguard observation tower built in 1937-38. Clifford would climb the 20 foot plus ladder so he could see over the pier to the north then slide down the fireman’s pole to respond to a rescue. This would become the legendary Tower 1 which would be replaced many times but always the busiest tower on the beach.


1952, Local Beach Lifeguards Living the Dream.


1952. San Clemente Beach Lifeguards: Bob Driscoll, Vince Nelson, John Severson, John Payne, Big Red, Jim Severson, Frank Dowden, Buster and Tony Stellar. From the Severson Collection.


Mid 1958, Station 56, San Clemente Lifeguard Department


1958: “Jungle Joe” Sokolich, Lt. Byron Keough, Ed Mooks”, Bruce Brown, (truck), Chief Dick Hazard, Wayne Schafer, Perter Van Dyke, Jim Coberly, Capt. Dave Johnson.

Boat was #5408, 18′ Doris-Built plywood hull, self bailing, 75hp Evinvrude, OC Harbor Department boat assigned to lifeguard department. Boat was 2,000 lbs and launched with wench at the end of the pier.

Although San Clemente lifeguarding can be traced back to the late 30’s it would fall to a young police officer to create a “Department”. Officer Richard “Dick” Hazard would pull together a group of season watermen to form the “San Clemente Lifeguard Department”. Orange County assigns each beach a two-digit call sign giving San Clemente #56 thus Station 56 was born with Chief Hazard assigned 5600 (Hundred). Although the faces and equipment have changed Station 56, Chief 5600 and tradition of beach safety are still with us.


1958. Tower Guards.


The white box towers had ramps instead of steps and the assigned guard was expected to do everything from trash pickup to rescues. Dick Hazard would run his department like the police department with regular uniform and equipment inspections, physical training and plenty of “piling rescues”. Towers on the South Side were odd numbered and North Side were even. By the late 60’s San Clemente had even towers north all the way to South Laguna with #38 located at North Aliso Beach.


60’s Surf Fever and Surf Destination


Circa mid 1960’s. Surf fever sweeps California and San Clemente becomes a beach/surf destination. Note the fishing boat off the end of the pier. Before Dana Harbor the Clemente and the Sum Fun picked up passengers from the end of the pier which was home to the Galley restaurant with its iconic “Fish” sign. Note on the pier on the far left is the “white box” lifeguard tower which is the first 56-Zero tower on the pier. 56-Zero is still the first tower opened in the morning and the last to close at night. Station 56 is growing rapidly…


1964 Legendary Guards and First HQ


1964 – Lifeguard Headquarters at the base of the pier north side.

Back Row, L to R: Lt Hank Barnes, Boatman Jerry Hawk, Lt. Steve Chorak, Captain Phil Stubs, Chief Dick Hazard

Middle Row: Tom Long, Richard Lockwook, Steve Helfer, Ron Leicester, Kim Clemons, Ed Marsh, Roger Evans, Allan Seymour, Ed Stewart

Front Row: Fred Stier, Lou Mathe, Jerry Bennette, Marty Statley, David Chorak, Curtis Van Arsdalen


Zero Tower:


By mid 60’s Chief Dick Hazard and Captain Phil Stubbs had built a new zero tower which still stands today. With a strong current flowing north “pier rescues” were plentiful. In the early days’ guards were stationed under the tower with their own chair and phone. When zero saw a group of swimmers drifting into the pier he would call down and the guards would either jump or climb down the lower ladder and run along the stringers. Thus the “Angel of Mercy” story was born


Early 60’s: Lifeguard HQ just north of the pier.


The first garage with the HQ sign was moved from the based of the pier adjacent to the Boat Club boat lockers. It was used to store the boat and various lifeguard equipment. The early Jeep CJ-5 (CJ’s for civilian Jeep) is still the same basic design used today and the “unit” is a legend of many lifeguard stories. In the background is the Resort Motel that the volunteer fire department (including a number of lifeguards) burned down in the mid 70’s. It is now a public park and parking lot. Above is Casa Romanica the home of San Clemente’s founder Ole Hanson. It is also where lifeguards would practice cliff rescue repelling down the bluff to the beach. Note the Pier Bowl asphalt entrance ends with picnic tables… they will be gone soon.

Late 60’s: New HQ


San Clemente Lifeguard Headquarters would be built in the 1968 ($75,000) and was designed by Dick Hazard to house offices, dispatch, first aid room, locker room, training room, unit garages and the entire Beach Maintenance Department. Although the foundation was originally laid on flat sand it has remarkably withstood countless storms and deep sand erosion. Hazard’s original design to build the front half on pilings has proven to be key for this building to continue as the hub of lifeguard and Jr. lifeguard activities in San Clemente. As of Fall 2019 the City has voted to spend $2M to refurbish the building and reinforce seawall that protects it.


By 1970 the new HQ was filled to capacity with 60 lockers and 4 jeeps called “units”. Each unit had a call sign and was assigned to an “area”. Area 1 was patrolled by 5610 located on the south side of the pier, Area 2 was unit 5620 on north side to the City limits, Area 3 was unit 5630 included Poche, Dana Harbor, Strands, Salt Creek and Monarch. Area 4 was 5640 in South Laguna with Three Arch, West Street, Camels Point and Aliso Beach. 5690 was our lifeguard rescue boat and 5600 was and is still our Chief.

In the early days unit guards were paired for the summer and assigned a specific “area”. Names like Barrett & Mc Cartin, Ewell & Bro, Lewis & Chew became synonymous with their specific areas and style of lifeguarding.

Note the sand and palm trees in the round planter in front of the building.


70’s Time of Change


1971 Lifeguard Tryouts. It’s a time of change. With a staff of nearly 60, Chief Hazard and Captain Stubbs start actively recruiting from inland high school and college swim teams. The days of the beach-bred waterman are slowly being replaced by talented young swimmers who view the job as both summer employment and a possible career.  In the front of this pack is Steve Barrett (LA Sheriff and still actively lifeguarding (2019). Fourth back in red/yellow is Larry Moore (Marine Safety Lieutenant then to City Hall. Retires 2016). Next back inside (red/white) is Brian Covert (SD Fire Capt.), Bob Elwell, Dirk McCue (Fullerton). ER Dr. Mark McCartin is the blond near the end. This was the year that legendary local surfer Midget (Jeff) Smith would try out but the competition from inland swimmers was too much.  Midget would start his own surf company and become a highly respected judge on the pro circuit. The days of the local beach boy turned lifeguard would give way to a new breed of professional lifeguard and the Lifeguard Department would morph into the Marine Safety Division.


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