In a career as a lifeguard that has spanned more than five decades, Ed Vodrazka, has seen just about everything. On his way out the door to semi-retirement, Vodrazka wanted to give a shout out to the men and women he has worked alongside for so many years.
He wanted to tell their stories, share their acts of courage and bravery with the world. He also wanted to entertain with some of the lighter moments on a job that can require risking ones life at any moment. The result was a self-published book entitled, “Stories from Sea Level – The heroic and humorous adventures of California’s lifeguards.” Over his nearly 50-year career, Vodrazka has worked with multiple agencies throughout California and with hundreds, maybe thousands of lifeguards. Aside from the experience, he’d compiled a mountain of stories that he’s shared with friends over the years.
“People always said, ‘you should write a book,’” he said.
So, he did. He narrowed many dozens of incidents down to 39 specific stories. He reached out to the original lifeguards who were part of them and re-interviewed them. While the world waited for the pandemic to let up, Vodrazka set to writing. Of the 39 incidents, 10 are stories of heroic achievements, in which the lifeguards in the story were awarded Medal of Valor honors from the United States Lifeguard Association and/or the Governor of California.
He said he wanted to bring some recognition to the efforts of his fellow lifeguards.
But Vodrazka didn’t want the entire book to be too heavy, so the other 29 stories are of the humorous or entertaining variety.
“They’re the funny part of what we do as lifeguards,” Vodrazka said.
Vodrazka was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in Los Angeles. He got his first lifeguard job as a 17-year-old. He may not have known at the time that he would spend his entire life in the field, but he does remember feeling a strong sense of pride for being hired to join the ranks. He said he would wear the red trunks he was given for his new job, while he washed his car in front of his house, so people would know he was a lifeguard.
“I was so proud the day I got my first pair of reds,” Vodrazka said. “That pride has never left me.” Starting as a teen, Vodrazka worked seasonally, up and down the coast of California for 25 years. For seven years he worked the Sonoma Coast region. Unlike LA and Orange County beaches, that face more south than west, the Sonoma coast area faces almost north. It regularly gets 20-foot swells as they pick power and energy on their trip from Alaska.
“It is the most dangerous stretch of coastline in America,” Vodrazka said.
Along the way, Vodrazka became an instructor for the State Lifeguard Training Academy. He went back to school to earn a bachelor’s in nursing and worked as an RN in fields that included cardiaology, surgery, ER and hospice. He also taught Emergency Medical Technician classes at Miramar College.
If he hasn’t worked with a lifeguard in California, there’s a good chance he had a hand in training them. His experience and longevity has allowed him to get to know most of the people in the state who work in the field. It also gave him a leg up in fleshing out stories for his book. Recently retired Mike Brousard, formerly Lifeguard chief for San Clemente and Huntington Beach, wrote an afterward for the book, stating, “only Ed Vodrazka could have written this book, for the simple reason he is one of the best-known practitioners of the lifesaving discipline in California.”
In his younger days, Vodrazka travelled the world; met the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa and hike the mountains of Nepal, as high as 18,000 feet. Seeing the need the world had for health care was one of the reasons he pursued his nursing degree. Later he would settle back in Southern California, where he met and married his wife, Jennifer. They would have two children, a son named Charlie and a daughter named Jade.
Currently Vodrazka is moving into retirement. He and Jennifer are going to stay in the San Diego area, but he is staying on as a seasonal lifeguard with Los Angeles County. He said he will work on Catalina, which he jokingly refers to as getting put out to pasture. But he also notes that getting assigned to Avalon is like a reward for a career well spent. He said, that the lifeguards in Avalon on Catalina Island may not be in their prime, but they are among the most accomplished.
“Those are some of the most distinguished lifeguards on the planet,” Vodrazka said.
Maybe in between shifts in Avalon, Vodrazka will find time to work on another book. Maybe while on shift he’ll see someone on the beach reading his current one. Either way, he’ll have a little more time in the sun and a few more shifts in the work that has called him since he was just a teenager. “I can’t leave it man, I just can’t leave this job,” Vodrazka said.
“Stories from Sea Level” is available through Amazon in paperback or e-book.