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A Full, Active Life for a Frugal Man on the Go

SURVIVAL IN THE 70'80s90 This is another in an intermittent series of articles on the ways Southern Californians live and how they pay their bills.

July 11, 1985|MARSHALL BERGES | Times Staff Writer

Can true happiness be found on a modest budget? You doubt it? Meet William Powers. His life style could change your mind.

A lean 6-footer with a shy but friendly manner, and a tendency to speak so softly that companions often strain to hear him, Powers, 38, is a Los Angeles County lifeguard stationed at the Topanga section of Will Rogers State Beach. His take-home pay amounts to $1,500 a month.

Yet he indulges throughout the year in vacation-like pleasures, such as sailing, surfing, skiing, hunting--many times at expensive resorts--without running up huge credit card bills or going deeply into debt.

Some specifics of the fun that he packs into the time of his life:

--He skied 50 days last season (a period extending from Thanksgiving to July) and 39 days in the current season. "Mammoth closed early or I'd have made 50 again," he said. "But I hope to do 50 days next season."

--He travels annually to Idaho for the 11-day pheasant-hunting season.

--He makes two or three trips a year to surf at Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California.

--During the summer, Los Angeles County lifeguards work 10 hours a day, four days a week, with three days off. During those three days, achieving maximum time by driving at night, Powers may trek to the Colorado River to water ski, sail a catamaran or ride the rapids on a kayak.

--He also manages many three- or four-day trips throughout the year by carving up his three weeks' annual vacation time into one- or two-day add-on segments to regular weekends.

--A mere two-day weekend enables him to visit the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara, which he regards as "one of the really beautiful vacation places, with some spectacular surfing, no crowds and water so clear it takes your breath away."

--Even ordinary workdays are not without time for exhilarating activity. Bill Powers awakens before 6 most mornings, in his Santa Monica apartment two blocks from the ocean. Waves and weather permitting, he surfs before reporting to lifeguard duty. At day's end, especially in the summer, "I like to sail my catamaran for an hour or two, just to clear my head."

Frequent holidays, especially at luxury resorts, can strain the budget of even the well-heeled tourist. Bill Powers manages to enjoy a luxurious life style thanks to a combination of attributes. He is a versatile and accomplished athlete who instructs others in everything from sailing to wind-surfing to water-skiing to hunting (including dog-training) to horseback-riding to mono-skiing (two feet on a single ski) from mountaintops.

The instructions, he said, require no payment. "If I give people ski lessons, and they let me stay at their condominium, or invite me to dinner, or let me ride somewhere with them, it's a fair exchange and there's no money involved. Mostly it's a gesture of friendship on both sides. I've found that the further I stay away from financial dealings, the more easily things work out."

A Frugal Man

Powers is frugal. He pays $250 a month rent for his tiny apartment, where the most conspicuous decoration is a large collection of skis. He rides a bicycle around Santa Monica and travels longer distances in his 1976 Ford van, which has logged 136,000 miles. He flies tourist class unless a wealthy friend happens to offer a trip on a private plane.

Powers also saves on what he regards as non-essentials. He said: "I'm not into the night life. I'm usually asleep by 9 or 10 o'clock. I'm not into a lot of clothes. What I like is to travel, not just to go and look but to go and do . Whether it's surfing in Peru or pheasant hunting in Idaho or heading up north for helicopter skiing, I like to go and do."

But Powers brushes aside any suggestion that he leads a glamorous life style. " Glamorous is not a word I use," he said, "and in any case it sure doesn't apply to lifeguarding. One big misconception is, a lot of people think all we do is pull Playboy Bunnies out of the surf.

Crisis Prevention

"The truth is different. Every year we reunite thousands of lost children with their parents. We make thousands of swimming rescues and thousands of boat rescues. We try to work on crisis prevention, meaning we warn people about dangerous situations, not only for their sake but for others'. It's especially important if only one lifeguard is on duty. You see, once a lifeguard goes into the water to effect a rescue, there's nobody watching the beach.

"We get maybe 75 million people a year at the beaches, and it means we have to deal with an awful lot of crisis situations. We really need those three-day weekends in the summer because the problems can be real exhausting.

"We have to watch not only the beach but the parking lot because there are car burglaries. I don't mean there are no police, but if they're busy some other place they might not show up for an hour. And it's not like we carry any weapons. We're just standing there in our swimming trunks, trying to keep things under control.

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