As historic passings of the standard go, this one had a distinctly Southern California flavor.
The principals, most of them clad in swim trunks, sneakers and sunglasses, gathered early Wednesday morning on wind-swept beaches up and down Santa Monica Bay. Then, with a tug at the paddleboard and a last glance at the pounding surf, it was over.
At precisely 8 a.m., state lifeguards and maintenance people replaced the Los Angeles County crews that have worked some of the area's most famous beaches for nearly 40 years.
The switch was dictated by politics and money: state and county officials were unable to agree on who should pay for services on eight beaches that are owned by the state but have been managed by Los Angeles County since the 1950s.
The dispute evolved into a standoff between two huge governmental bodies, with each seeking to use the popularity of the beaches--Dan Blocker, Las Tunas, Redondo, Manhattan, Point Dume, Royal Palms, Topanga and Malibu Surfrider--as a trump card.
But the quarrel's outcome was felt by people such as Mike Dytri, a Manhattan Beach surfer who wandered up to one of the newly installed state lifeguards Wednesday and asked where his old county friends were and whether the new guards knew enough about local waters to save his life if a mishap occurred.
"Usually, the same lifeguards have worked these towers for years, and they really know these beaches," said Dytri, 25, his dark, wet hair and bodysuit glistening in the sun. "I don't know what this change is going to mean."
Getting displaced from their traditional turf also clearly upset many county lifeguards, members of a tanned and toned corps that has passed into legend as a result of innumerable rescues and lionization on the popular TV show "Baywatch," which has fans worldwide.
"Here it is a gorgeous, sunny, beautiful day--the epitome of Southern California--and inside I'm feeling sadness that it's my last day here," said senior lifeguard Bob Janis, 44, as he kept watch Tuesday on a covey of surfers bobbing offshore at Surfrider Beach.
"It's a dark day for us," said Janis, wearing aviator sunglasses and the guards' trademark red Speedo trunks. "I'm just glad to have a job. . . . Some guys are getting laid off; some guys are getting demoted."
The changing of the guards along about a third of the county's coastline also raised questions about staffing levels, safety and beach maintenance.
State Parks and Recreation Director Donald W. Murphy pledged a high level of service at a Manhattan Beach news conference Wednesday morning.
"We now manage about 250 miles of California coastline," Murphy said. "Our staff has spent months of on-site review of the county's operations during both the summer and off-season. We manage populated areas like Huntington Beach, Bolsa Chica and South Carlsbad, so I think there should be every confidence in the state's ability to provide these services here."
Murphy said that initially it will cost the state about $4 million to operate the beaches but that state officials expect services to cost about 25% less than the county operation.
Members of the California Conservation Corps will assist in initial maintenance efforts at the beaches, but state officials hinted that they will seek to make major improvements in how the beaches are maintained, including landscaping and signs.
But it was immediately clear that the new caretakers must still win the trust of much of the Southern California beach-going public.
One man interrupted his morning bicycle ride on the Strand to direct this comment at Murphy: "I think this is the worst thing that could have happened."
The state parks director gave the man his card and offered reassurances: "If you see a difference in service, call me and bend my ear about it."
Nancy J. Rigg also turned up at the news conference to voice concern. Her fiance died 15 years ago trying to rescue a child in the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, and she has been working since then to integrate county lifeguards into the multi-agency swift-water rescue program. She worried that the effort may dissolve.
"This will create a jurisdictional mess not unlike that which we only recently resolved along the inland flood control channels, where victims found themselves caught not only in the deadly torrent, but in a jurisdictional limbo between uncooperative and disorganized agencies," she said.
State lifeguards already work such treacherous waters as the American River in Northern California, Murphy responded, vowing to integrate state lifeguards with local rescue operations.
Some critics of the transfer also were concerned that state lifeguards' peace officer status--unlike county lifeguards, they have the power to arrest lawbreakers--would create friction on the county's crowded urban beaches. Murphy, however, downplayed potential conflicts.
"The reason we do that is because the public tells us safety is their No. 1 concern," Murphy said. "The guards are not trained to be adversarial."