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Buddy Belshe

January 26, 2004

Steve Virgen

On the sand, near the water or on a tower at the beach is where Buddy

Belshe feels at home. He's at peace. It has been a place with a sense

of home for the past 55 years.

Belshe, who worked 27 full-time years as a lifeguard for Newport

Beach, continues his career as a seasonal lifeguard. This spring, he

will enter his 17th year as a seasonal lifeguard, working along the

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shores of Corona del Mar.

"The beach is where my real love is," said Belshe who will be 70

in March. "To me, being able to help people on the beach is just

great. It's hard to explain. Not too many people love their job, but

I truly love my job."

Belshe has reached legendary status among the Newport Beach

Lifeguards.Belshe, who learned to swim when he was 3, was raised in

Huntington Beach, roughly three blocks away from the ocean. His

father, Gene, was the first year-round paid lifeguard for Huntington

Beach.

"I grew up on the beach," Belshe said. "My dad had me knowing what

rip currents were at a young age. We used to be able to jump off the

pier before it became illegal. I knew I wanted to be a lifeguard. I

could tell if people were in trouble. It was just in my blood."

The dream of following his father into the profession became a

reality four days before Belshe's 16th birthday. He started out

patrolling the big surf at Huntington Beach, where there were days he

would make 60-70 rescues.

"I've had people tell me because they've known me for so long they

figured I have made over 5,000 [rescues]," Belshe said. "I didn't

keep track of them in my early days. I made a lot of rescues in

Huntington because it's a really busy place."

Belshe's first assignment was supervising the West Newport

division with Don Burns, a former Newport Harbor High football coach.

Belshe also worked with Al Irwin, also a former football coach for

the Sailors.

In 1999, he was recognized by the Newport Beach City Council for

his dedication in the field of marine safety. He retired in 1988, but

continued to work as a seasonal lifeguard.

Belshe was promoted twice before being named captain. Several of

the Newport Beach lifeguards today were trained by Belshe, so, when

he returned to work only as a seasonal lifeguard, he asked to be a

bit removed from Newport Beach and continued his dedicated service

tucked away at Corona del Mar.

In addition to his job for Newport Beach, Belshe also works as a

lifeguard for the only public pool in San Clemente during the winter.

To remain in top physical condition, Belshe runs, competes in the

masters swim program and also competes in endurance open-water

swimming. He usually wins in the 65-69 age division.

"I like winning," said Belshe, who was an All-American swimmer for

Orange Coast College in 1954 and 1955.

On his days off, he will sometimes swim about 2,800 yards in a

pool and run two miles. Every year, he is asked to swim 1,100 yards

under 20 minutes as part of a lifeguard test.

"I do that in about the 15-minute range," he said. "I think I'm

pretty good for at least another two years. When I don't think I can

do the job and perform to my expectations, which are pretty high, I

would be the first one to say I would leave."

Belshe said before he became a lifeguard, he had no idea it would

be his career. He had thought of becoming a teacher.

"I think I made the right decision by becoming a lifeguard,"

Belshe said. "It has been very rewarding helping people."

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