Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach Guards honor rescues, announcer, instructor

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by Ryan McDonald

The sky was clear at Seaside Lagoon in Redondo Beach Wednesday night, but speakers at the Los Angeles County Lifeguards Medal of Valor Dinner couldn’t help but reach for the phrase “dark and stormy night.” That’s because Dick Douglas, who has spent more than 50 years as an ocean lifeguard, was being honored with the evening’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with his lengthy service protecting beachgoers, Douglas became known as the voice of the International Surf Festival, providing insider insight to those watching the Taplin relays.

He also helped transform the Medal of Valor ceremony, at which lifeguards honor daring rescues. Douglas recalled that, years ago, he told a supervisor that he felt the awards were given out in a manner that did not reflect the lifeguards’ impressive efforts; the supervisor told Douglas he should do something about it. Years later, Douglas remains the show’s emcee — a position he temporarily surrendered to avoid giving an award to himself — and attendees have grown fond of his dramatic invocations, including the standard “it was a dark and stormy night.”

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“I can’t tell you how blessed I am,” Douglas told the assembled crowd of roughly 400 people.

A fiery night provided the backdrop for the evening’s distinguished service award, given to Capt. Ryan Addison and Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Tim Ryan. The two were at home in Paradise Cove in Malibu on Nov. 8 of last year, the night the Woolsey Fire broke out. The two guards found a nozzle for an old fire hose, and worked more than 24 hours straight to defend Paradise Cove. Although the Woolsey Fire would eventually damage more than 1,600 structures in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Addison and Ryan’s efforts ensured that not a single mobile home in the Paradise Cove park caught fire.

The first of the evening’s Medal of Valor honorees were Ocean Lifeguard specialists Shaun Gudmundsson and Ruben Carmona. On the evening of Aug. 9 last year, they rescued two fishermen who had gotten trapped in large surf near Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes. Carmona recalled that, after getting the fishermen to safety, Gudmundsson returned to the rocks and grabbed their fishing gear, cell phones and car keys; Gudmundsson then took advantage of the large waves and went surfing.

The other Medal of Valor award went to Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Jon Van Duinwyck, for a perilous rescue he made of a 70-year-old man who had gotten trapped in the wreckage of a boat being lashed by large shorepound near Dockweiler Beach. Van Duinwyck’s supervisor said conditions were so dangerous that he is not sure he would have sent a guard on the rescue. Van Duinwyck credited a lifelong love of surf lifesaving.

“By the time I was an A, I had a one-track mind. This is all I wanted to do,” he said.

The “A” referred to the final level of Junior Lifeguards, and the program provided a chance for the ceremony’s newest award: the 2019 Junior Lifeguard Award, given to Ocean Lifeguard Bill Krauss, who recently retired after 48 years. Dozens of guards credited their love of the ocean to Krauss, and one shared a favorite story. When Sean Penn, the actor who portrayed surf-dude Jeff Spicoli in 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” was asked who the most inspirational person in his life was, he had a ready answer: Krauss.

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