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Findlay Family Stays in Swim : Lifeguard Habit Comes Naturally, Generation Upon Generation

July 13, 1989|LINDA MEARS

If a movie were made about the Findlay family, it would have to be called "They Came From the Sea" and, unlike the dismal B-grade flicks that the title suggests, this film would get a sparkling "G" rating, worthy of Disney himself.

And if an argument were made that lifeguards are made, not born, 20-year-old Sean Findlay could contradict it simply by showing the family photo album.

Findlay, a Camarillo resident and Ventura College student, is the most recent member of his family to ascend California state beach lifeguard towers, following a tradition begun by his great-grandfather.

Findlay, an assistant coach for Camarillo's Pleasant Valley swimming team during winter months, cannot remember when he did not know how to swim. "When my mom and I weren't at the beach with my dad, we were at my grandparents' pool," he said.

Sean's father, Fred Findlay, echoes his son in recounting his own childhood. "My father was a part-time lifeguard for the city of Los Angeles back in the days of the one-piece tank suit. They didn't have full-time lifeguards then and the pay scale wasn't enough to support a family, so my dad worked in the mail room at the Los Angeles Times during the week."

But, Fred Findlay recalled, most weekends and all summer he went to "work" with his father--Sean's grandfather--at Will Rogers State Beach, where Fred became a permanent full-time lifeguard and eventually a lieutenant for the L.A. City Junior Lifeguard program in the early 1970s.

'Grew Up Loving Beach'

"I grew up loving the beach," Fred Findlay said. Like his father, he also got a job in The Times mail room while attending Pierce College. He recalled the day that set his career course. "I went into work at the Times Mirror Building one beautiful morning and when I came out eight hours later, the sun was setting. I remember thinking, 'I missed this whole beautiful day!' "

It did not happen again. Fred Findlay spent the next 20 years at the beach until the Fire Department offered him a position as a paramedic. "I took it because it was an opportunity to do something else," he said. "But I still call in to lifeguard at Santa Monica Beach a few days a month. All my friends are there."

Fred Findlay's grandfather was active in community affairs and, although he was not a lifeguard, was enough of a beach-goer to see the need for qualified personnel on the beaches. He was instrumental in getting Venice to form an ocean lifeguard crew, which was then under the jurisdiction of the police department.

Although Sean Findlay said he has not yet decided if lifeguarding will be his career, he vows not to work behind a desk. "It will definitely be an ocean-oriented career," he said. "I'm hoping to attend California Maritime Academy."

Best of All Worlds

In the meantime, being a lifeguard is, for both Fred and Sean Findlay, the best of all possible worlds. "Where else can we make a living doing something we love?" Fred Findlay asked. "Unless you're Mark Spitz, there's no great after-market for swimmers. People work indoors all week and the first place they hit on weekends is the beach. When kids get out of school, the first place they head is the beach. We're at the beach all the time. The only difference is we have a much greater responsibility."

Sean Findlay agreed. "I like everything about being a lifeguard, and I get paid for it."

Do lifeguards always get the girl? "Well," he said with a laugh, "I'm not sure. The first girl I ever cared about I got--and kept. But that was at a pool. Does that count?"

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