A throng of about 200 lifeguards, firefighters, longtime surfers, politicians and residents had a chance for the first time to touch the surface of the artwork, inspecting the detail of the shirtless, muscular bronze figure attired in swim trunks.
Standing 6 feet 3 inches, the statue depicts a guard scanning the waters for people in distress. A rescue float in his left hand while he holds a pair of swim fins is in his right.
“He is looking out to make sure everyone is okay,” said statue artist Richard Arnold, a 1959 Point Loma High graduate who spent two years creating the figure.
Arnold recalled how he learned to admire and respect the lifeguards who looked out for him when he grew up on the sands of Ocean Beach.
The figure’s cost was covered by $20,000 in city funds provided by the offices of city councilmembers Kevin Faulconer of District 2 and Lori Zapf of District 6, along with more than $30,000 in private donations. Both attended the unveiling ceremony, along with Mayor Bob Filner.
The statue stands next to the lifeguards’ main tower at the foot of Santa Monica Avenue, near the site of a 1918 tragedy where 13 men, including 11 soldiers and sailors, drowned in a strong riptide.
The event hastened the creation and acquisition of equipment to form the current San Diego Lifeguard Services. An adjacent memorial plaque tells the story of the 1918 tragedy.
Clearly, this is not another Cardiff Kook statue, the quirky surfer in North County despised by many.
“But if someone wants to put a hat or scarf on him ... you know, that’s Ocean Beach,” said community activist and former City Councilman Byron Wear, who spearheaded fundraising efforts.