Buddy Belshe, the man who served as Newport Beach’s life guard for nearly half a century, died on Wednesday.
He was 78 and leaves behind five adult children and six grandchildren along with a prominent legacy in swimming and marine safety.
The founder of Newport Beach’s Pier to Pier 2-Mile Rough Water Swim, Belshe never tired of his life’s calling, working as a lifeguard well into his 70s.
The City of Newport Beach released the following statement honoring his memory:
Retired Newport Beach Lifeguard Captain Buddy Belshe passed away on Wednesday, December 19. He served Newport Beach for 47 years and will be remembered for his steadfast dedication to marine safety.
“Buddy was considered the best pure lifeguard on the force,” said Battalion Chief Jim Turner. “His ability to concentrate on water observation for long periods of time, quickly identify rescues, and respond early to potential victims - often before they even realized they were in distress - was exceptional.”
Born in Orange, California in 1934, Buddy grew up in Huntington Beach. He was a multiple All-American swimmer at Huntington Beach High School in the 1950s and was one of the top middle-distance swimmers in the United States. Buddy later swam for Orange Coast College and then the University of Denver, finishing ninth in the 1,500-meter swim at the 1956 Olympic Swim Trials. He transferred to Cal State University Long Beach and received his degree in 1959.
Buddy began his lifeguarding career in 1950 as a seasonal lifeguard for the City of Huntington Beach. A decade later, he accepted a full-time position as a Marine Safety Officer with the City of Newport Beach. He worked as a beach supervisor for four years and became the Operations Lieutenant for two years. Buddy was promoted to Operations Captain in 1967, where he oversaw beach operations until his “full-time retirement” in 1987. He returned to Newport Beach as a seasonal lifeguard in 1988 and worked an additional 19 summers - until 2007 - in Corona Del Mar.
Buddy also worked as a lifeguard for the Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin from 2006 to 2010. When asked, in 2008, about retirement plans, Buddy said that he didn’t know when he would retire, stating simply "I still have a few more years left in me."
Buddy was a founding member of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) in 1964. He was on the USLA team for the first World Lifesaving Congress in Durban, South Africa in 1974 and represented the organization on an exchange to Australia for three weeks in the late 1970s. He also represented USLA for the 1978 World Lifesaving Congress hosted by the City of Newport Beach.
Buddy was also a noted U.S. Masters Swimmer and won numerous national championships in the pool and as an ocean swimmer. He competed in the La Jolla Rough Water Swim every year since he won his age group as a 13-year-old with just two exceptions: once when the race was cancelled due to a shark sighting, and once when the race was cancelled due to a polio epidemic. He created the Newport Beach Pier to Pier 2-Mile Rough Water Swim in 1976 as part of the City's Bicentennial celebration at the suggestion of former Mayor Evelyn Hart. The annual ocean event, affectionately referred to as "Buddy's Swim" by Masters’ swimmers throughout Southern California, celebrated its 37th anniversary this past summer with more than 300 competitors.
Buddy was the only son of the late Gene and Johnnie Belshe. His father served as the first full-time, paid lifeguard and later as a Police Captain, for the City of Huntington Beach. His mother was a renowned swim teacher for over 60 years.
Buddy is survived by five adult children, Dana, Lin, Tad, Blake and Ty and six grandchildren.
Services are being arranged for early January.
Please contact the Newport Beach Lifeguards at 949-644-3177 for additional information.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS
Did you know Buddy? Share your memories here.