Pond strong: Lifeguard Kyle Pond fights leukemia, with a little help from his friends
By Ed Solt
Until that day in May, the strongest fever local surf star and LA County Lifeguard Kyle Pond had ever felt was “surf fever.” Just the prior week, the 27-year-old South High graduate was “taking it to it” on his Tyler Surfboards noserider at his beloved Torrance Beach. What started gradually with a high temperature of 103.7°F led to flu-like conditions, with chills and overall fatigue.
“His girlfriend Erin began looking up the causes of what was making Kyle sick online,” said Kyle’s best friend, Manhattan Beach firefighter Christian McArthur. “I told her it could be a million things. Leukemia was mentioned but that’s last thing I that could ever happen. Leukemia normally has a chronic onset — Kyle had only been sick for a couple of days.”
McArthur grew up with Pond. They were also teammates on the South High surf team coached by McArthur’s father Leigh; in 2007, Pond led the team all the way to the state championships, the highest finish in the surf team’s history.
“I cannot remember him ever losing a heat in either long or shortboard divisions,” said the senior McArthur. “He made everyone on the team better with his encouragement, advice, and leadership.”
During his four years on the surf team, Pond developed a style that translated pleasantly on all types of surf craft.
“Kyle shortboards with purpose and definition, taking what the wave gives him, and uses it perfectly for whatever maneuver he chooses to perform,” McArthur said. “On a longboard, Kyle is Rick Irons reincarnated [Irons was a Torrance Beach local in the 60s, a Jacobs Surf Team member, and uncle to pro surfers Andy and Bruce Irons]. I remember surfing with Lance Carson in the 60s and always stopping to watch how he moved. I do the same with Kyle. His style is old school.”
Pond’s love for the ocean extends beyond wave riding. As a kid, every summer Pond enrolled in the Junior Lifeguard program.
“Growing up Kyle always looked forward to JGs,” said Erin Austin, his girlfriend. “It exposed him to many great watermen.”
The summer after high school, Pond trained diligently for the lifeguard test and passed it on the first go around. He’s worked as a recurrent LA County lifeguard since. When the opportunity to become a JG instructor opened in his department a few summers ago, he didn’t hesitate.
“Kyle has always loved working with kids,” Austin said. “He believes that any positive influence can have a life-changing impact on a kid.”
Pond became a beloved figure to his Redondo Beach Junior Lifeguards.
“Every time I drove by his JG group at Topaz not only did he have a big smile on his face but all 30 of his Junior Guards did also. He really seems to pass his love for the ocean along to the kids,” said LA County lifeguard captain Tom Seth. “Kyle is also an incredible surfer, as you know. I would say of the County’s thousand lifeguards, I would put Kyle in the top ten surfers.”
In the 2015 Hermosa Beach Hotdogger Championships, a traditional longboard surf contest, Pond placed 3rd in the highly contested Electric Bitchin’ Division, 18-34.
“While not super flashy, much like his unassuming but friendly and likable character, Kyle is stylish, yet strong, powerful and athletic out in the water,” said Tyler Hatzikian, the master craftsman of Tyler Surfboards. “I am stoked to have him ride my boards. He compliments the other talents on the team, and brings a lot to the brand,”
Pond’s go-for-broke style won him the Aloha HR “Most Radical Rollercoaster” award and a check for $200. (He posed in front of an ATM pretending to cash in the gigantic check on Instagram).
“I am stoked to have got to know him and hang a bunch the last couple of years. Although he’s younger, I wish I got to know Kyle sooner,” said Hatzikian
On May 10, Pond went to the emergency room. Within 24 hours, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). On May 14, he began his “induction” treatment, a 24-hour around-the-clock mix of two chemotherapy drugs, lasting seven days. This was followed in June with another round of treatment classified as ”consolidation” chemotherapy. In July, Pond prepared for a bone marrow transplant, which included 11 rounds of full body radiation and one day of the extremely heavy cytotoxic anticancer medicine, Etoposide.
“Kyle’s one of the strongest human beings, inside and out, I know,” said his friend Shawn O’Brien, also a local longboarding star.
His July 26 surgery was a success. After 31 days in the hospital, Pond returned home to recuperate with friends and family.
“There’s never been a negative, bad or discouraging word ever spoken about Kyle,” said O’Brien.
Since his diagnosis, the local surf and waterman community, friends, and family have stepped up with a crowdfunding campaign to help Pond with medical bills. The Rockefeller in Hermosa Beach and Good Stuff restaurants in Palos Verdes and Redondo Beach dedicated nights to Pond, donating a portion of their sales. On August 17, R-10 Social House in Redondo Beach hosted a fundraiser with the Young and Brave Foundation. Headed by McArthur and another longtime friend, Ted Olson, the event featured a silent auction of donated once-in-a-lifetime items: hand shaped and glassed by Hatzikian balsa “777” (Kyle’s favorite shape) model Tyler Surfboard, kayaks, surfboards, and SUPs shaped by Andy Prunauer of Proper Surfboards and Joe Bark of Bark Surfboards, a South Bay brewery group tour, a Manhattan Beach Fire Station dinner, Kaaboo Music Festival tickets, among other items.
“I am truly blessed beyond words. I have a million people to thank. The Young and Brave Foundation said it best, ‘People don’t get cancer, families do.’ I have experienced that first hand,” Pond said. “Watching this community come together, like a huge family and give and give so generously in so many ways — it’s been the most humbling experience.”
For more info on Kyle, check out: youcaring.com/kyle-pond-570400 ER