By Don Kindred
When Bill Humphries was five years old, his sister recalls vividly, he drove his family crazy singing along to an old Popeye tune called “I want to be a Lifeguard.” He’s since framed the 45.
Forty years and 3,000 miles later Humphries is literally at the top of the lifeguard food chain, at least in San Clemente.
As our Marine Safety Captain, he reigns from an office that even Donald Trump can’t touch. Marine Safety Headquarters is a unique facility. First of all it is of course, on the beach, a rock-skip north of the pier. You have to kick the sand out of your sandals before you walk in, but once you do... You behold a large-paned window with a view generally reserved only for a few fortunate vacationers. You see the length of the pier to the south, the cliffs of Mariposa to the north and to the west ... the way the mid-day sun shines off the cliffs of Catalina, it appears as close as Dana Point. I’m so close to the waves I should be in a boat. But for Bill Humphries, the road began as a frustrating one.
His family moved from his birthplace of Richmond, Virginia to San Clemente when Bill was just 11. Still determined to be a lifeguard, he joined the swimming and water polo teams just to prepare himself for lifeguard tryouts, supposedly when he was 16. But the rules were changed that very year and the city was now only accepting 17 year olds. When he came back at seventeen, of course, he was informed that the law had changed again and the city would only be hiring 18 year olds. Frustrated, he signed up for an ROP class which allowed him to become a volunteer lifeguard in 1977.
He stayed with the lifeguards while he pursued other interests in the off-season. At one point when he felt he could go no further. He activated his teaching credential and taught Kindergarten for a while. When Larry Moore transfered and left a position open for one of the only four full-time positions that Marine Safety has, he finally became a lifeguard full time. And then long-time Chief Lynn Hughes retired and Humphries was selected for the top spot.
Surveying the peaceful scene it is hard to believe that San Clemente lifeguards were credited with over 3,000 rescues in 2004 alone.
“San Clemente is known for its consistent surf,” Bill explains, “but this surf creates rip currents which many people are unaware of. Rip currents resulted in over 90% of our rescues last year.”
The staff is justifiably proud of their record. Last summer culminated 25 consecutive years without a drowning!
Bill went on to explain, “ The backbone of our division is the employees who sit in lifeguard towers up and down the beach and watch over swimmers and surfers. It can be very strenuous and stressful for these men and women to sit for extended periods of time, watching over and responding to swimmers in distress. As opposed to many other professions, no one alerts them if someone is in trouble – swimmers in distress need to be seen by a lifeguard who must determine if they need immediate help or not. Watching thousands of swimmers for signs of trouble and separating those who will make it in on their own from those who truly need help - is extremely difficult. Therefore, maintaining a high level of alertness and constant vigilance for the entire shift is the biggest challenge these employees face. Supervisors and senior lifeguards who serve as backup and support to the tower lifeguards also play an integral part in the success of our team. These men and women who are out in the field watching for and responding to trouble day in and day out should be commended.”
Bill Humphries’ commitments outside of work involve his church and family (Cub Scout leader, assisting with baseball coaching and church activities).
“Boating, surfing, mountain biking, and camping with our family fills up the remaining free time. With three sons, boredom is not a big issue in our household.” he says, smiling.b