Solberg leads LA County lifeguards to national championship
By Randy Angel
Grasping her paddleboard under her arm, Jenna Solberg stood on the north side of the Hermosa Beach Pier focusing on the surf. She knew she had to turn in fast times in the first two of three disciplines if she had a chance to win the Women’s Iron Woman championship at the USLA National Lifeguard Championships.
Strong performances in the board paddle and surf ski provided Solberg the lead she needed going into the swim leg of the competition, holding off LA County teammate Kelsey Cummings to claim the title.
“I knew I had to get a big lead,” said Solberg, a 21-year-old lifeguard from Torrance. “Kelsey is such an incredible swimmer and I knew she would be my toughest competitor.”
Solberg’s victory highlighted a weekend of competition in which she amassed 116.5 points to win the women’s overall championship. Cummings, 23, of El Segundo finished second with 98.5 points surpassing 2015 women’s champion Carter Graves, of Coronado, who tallied 83.5 points.
“I’ve always looked up to past winners and I’m so excited to join the club,” Solberg said. “This was my fourth year competing and it all came together for me.”
Competition in the water is second nature for Solberg. The previous Saturday Jenna watched her father Mel, a lifeguard on the LA County-Southern team, increase his record of 18 Taplin Medley Relay titles at the International Surf Festival. A graduate of Chadwick High School, Jenna is preparing to enter her senior year at UC Santa Barbara where she is a member of the Gaucho’s women’s water polo team.
Solberg and Cummings will join fellow LA County lifeguards Tim Burdiak and Kevin Fink on the 18-member USLA National Team that will compete at the Lifesaving World Championships that will take place Sept. 1-18 in The Netherlands.
Solberg’s performance in Hermosa Beach helped LA County Surf Life Saving Association win its third consecutive USLA National Championship and 30th in the last 31 years.
LA County’s 1,462.125 points secured the Howard Lee Trophy as the team bested California State Lifeguard Assoc. (1,125.625) and Hampton Lifeguard Assoc. (376.500).
“In the back of your mind, there’s always a little pressure to keep the tradition going, but I never worried about us winning again,” Solberg said. “This team has so much depth and diversity. It’s not that we win a lot of events, but we have so many lifeguards that are among the top finishers.”
Solberg also was a member of the first-place women’s Taplin Relay team, placed second in the Surf Race, Board Race and Board Rescue Race events and was on the third-place Rescue Race team.
Kevin Fink, of San Pedro, was LA County’s top male placing second overall with 70.500 points. Thomas O’Neill, of Riis Park (Queens, N.Y.) won the men’s title with 73.750 points while California State’s James Bray finished third with 66.875.
Men’s Open winners included Brian Murphy who captured the Iron Man title and Tim Burdiak won the Surf Ski title along with joining Kevin Fink, Shane Gallas and Patrick Jacobson on the winning Taplin Relay team.
Jack Bark partnered with Australian Nicholas Malcolm to win the Board Race and won the Board Rescue Race with teammates Kevin Fink, Hogan Inscore and Brian Murphy.
Cummings led LA County’s Women’s Open competitors winning the Surf Race and Run-Swim-Run events. She also joined Sarah Burris, Tiana Pugliese and Danielle Wong to capture the Rescue Race title and was on the first-place Taplin Relay team with Kelsey O’Donnell, Jenna Solberg and Wong.
LA County also had numerous athletes winning age-division titles. Men’s 30-34 winners included Nick Sullivan (Iron Man, 2K Beach Run), Ryan Bullock (Surf Race, Run-Swim-Run) and Brian Murphy (Board Rescue).
Jeff Monroe won the 35-39 division Surf Race and Run-Swim-Run, Tom Swift won the 40-44 Surf Race and Board Rescue while Jose Rene Abasolo won the 40-44 Beach Flags competition.
In the 45-49 division, Chip McDaniel won the Surf Race and Tom Seth was a dual winner capturing the American Iron Man title and partnering with Michael O’Donnell to win the Surf Boat race.
Mel Solberg won the men’s 50-54 American Iron Man while veterans Eklin Onsgard (65-59) and Ed Heinrich (70+) dominated their age groups.
Onsgard and Heinrich each won the Surf Race, Run-Swim-Run, Board Rescue, Surf Ski, Iron Man, Beach Run and Beach Flags events. Onsgard also won the American Iron Man title and teamed with Randy Steigely to win the Surf Boat competition.
Female age division winners included: Tandis Morgan (35-39, Board Race, Surf Ski, Iron Woman, Beach Flags), Diane Graner Gallas (50-54, Surf Race, Run-Swim-Run) and Ann Finley (50-54, Surf Ski, Beach Run).
For complete results including the Junior Lifeguards and Under-19 competitions, visit usla.org.