By Kristina Houck
Solana Beach lifeguards will catch waves in memory of one of their own during the inaugural Iron Mike Paddle Aug. 10 at Fletcher Cove.
The four-mile paddleboard race and surfing festival is in honor of late Solana Beach lifeguard Mike McKay, who died when he was 23 in an avalanche at Mountain High Ski Resort in January 2008.
“Mike was a natural leader who led by example,” said Solana Beach Marine Safety Sgt. Greg Uruburu, an Encinitas resident who worked with McKay. “He was a genuine guy and really wanted to see people succeed and be happy in life.”
A longtime resident of Wrightwood, Calif., McKay was an emergency medical technician, lead ski patroller and lifeguard. He was pursuing his master’s degree in psychology at National University in La Jolla at the time of his death.
Always outdoors, McKay was an avid soccer player, surfer, hiker, mountain bike rider, rock climber and skier.
Uruburu said he couldn’t think of a better way to honor and remember his friend than an event like the Iron Mike Paddle.
“We have his lifeguard family honoring him with an ocean going race, a board swap to promote sustainability and recycling, and family, friends and community uniting to celebrate someone who truly cared about all the things just mentioned,” Uruburu said.
Although McKay was only a Solana Beach lifeguard for one season, he made an impact on the department and was honored in 2007 as the “Rookie of the Year,” Uruburu said. Recipients of the annual award, now called the “Mountain Mike Rookie of the Year” in memory of McKay, receive a $500 scholarship from the Mike McKay Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit established by McKay’s family. Proceeds from Iron Mike Paddle will benefit the foundation, which awards roughly $3,500 in scholarships each year.
“All of our scholarships tend to be a pat on the back from Mike — that’s the way we look at it,” said McKay’s father, Vince McKay. “It’s a nice way of remembering him.”
Organized by the Solana Beach Lifeguard Association and Rerip, a nonprofit that supports recycling old surfboards, Iron Mike Paddle will feature art, live music and a surfboard swap along with eco-friendly vendors.
In addition to McKay’s fellow lifeguards, his family and friends, including his Labrador retriever, Daisy, will gather from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 at Fletcher Cove Park in Solana Beach to celebrate his life.
“It’s five years after his death, and they still remember Mike and honor his memory by doing this,” Vince McKay said. “That’s a testament to the respect that they had for him and their friendship.”
McKay’s mother, Laura McKay, added, “Mike just loved this group of guys. They clicked. To have them do this in honor of Mike is really incredible.”
For more information about Iron Mike Paddle, which is open to all ages, visit rerip.com. To register for the paddleboard race, contact Uruburu at 858-353-1394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Mike McKay Memorial Foundation, visit mikemckaymemorial.org.