Competing at the International Surf Festival in Hermosa Beach has become a regular occurrence for Palos Verdes High alums Brandon Gherardi and Jack Bark.
The first time both Gherardi and Bark took in the yearly event was more than 10 years ago, when they were part of the Junior Lifeguard program.
"I remember being so intimidated when it got dark, and we would go into the ocean at night," said Gherardi, who graduated from PV High in 2014. "It's the trippiest thing because you've got this massive spotlight shining right over us."
"These were the nights we would come and watch our instructors compete and it was the coolest thing ever watching them race under the light in the dark," Bark said. "It was always a dream of mine to be a lifeguard and to be able to compete like they were."
A 2012 PV High alum, Bark has been a member of the Judge Taplin Medley Relay's winning team, the L.A. County Southern Section squad, four years in a row. Each member of the winning team has their named carved on the Taplin Bell, similar the the NHL's Stanley Cup.
"It's really special because this goes back to the mid-1900's when lifeguards began racing," Bark said. "To have your name on the bell with so many other lifeguards is pretty amazing because it's just a team event."
As per the International Surf Festival website, the relay as it was originally conceived consisted of four swimmers, four paddles and four two-man dory teams.
"It's really fun being part of a team with all these amazing athletes," Bark said. "Some of them were my junior lifeguard instructors when I was younger."
Gherardi has been competing for the past five years, while working as an L.A. County Lifeguard in Hermosa Beach for the last three years, and Torrance/Redondo Beach for the prior two years.
He noted the difference between training for a normal day as a lifeguard and competing in events at the surf festival is minute.
"Our typical training is about trying to get to a rescue as fast and efficiently as possible without causing injury to ourselves or the victim," Gherardi said. "We have to be in good shape for that. On the competitive side, you just have to switch mindsets and know what you have to do."
One event both Gherardi and Bark feel separates the men from the boys is the Paul Matthies Dory Race, a 3-lap race around the Hermosa Beach pier.
"The history behind the boats is they were the first lifesaving devices used by lifeguards," Gherardi said. "Using them is a tradition to keep up the competitiveness. It's one of the craziest and hardest things in my eyes that I've done or seen. They're very heavy, and it's a very intimidating event."
Gheradi was part of the Hermosa Beach team that placed second in the Lifeguard Run Relay. The 2019 International Surf Festival took place July 31 and ended Sunday Aug. 4, consisting of 16 different events.