Torrey Pines head lifeguard to retire after 46 years

Ed Vodrazka
(Drasko Bogdonovic)

Ed Vodrazka also recently published his first book, highlighting exceptional stories in the history of California lifeguards


After 46 years as an ocean lifeguard, most recently as head lifeguard at Torrey Pines State Beach, Ed Vodrazka will retire in June.

Vodrazka, who lives in Del Mar, also wrote a book called “Stories from Sea Level: The Heroic and Humorous Adventures of California’s Ocean Lifeguards”. The book details some of the more notable acts of heroism and bravery by California lifeguards which occurred within the 50-year span between 1969-2019.

On his decision to retire, Vodrazka said he realized “it’s just time” as he approached age 63. His career has included stops at San Clemente and the Sonoma Coast before the last 18 years at Torrey Pines.

The cover of “Stories from Sea Level”
The cover of “Stories from Sea Level”

“It’s a young person’s game and it’s time to pass the torch to the next group of young people to take over,” said Vodrazka, who completed his first Hawaii Ironman in 1981.

The idea for the book and the stories that were included, Vodrazka added, was to provide readers with more insight and a greater appreciation for the work lifeguards do. It includes lifeguarding agencies throughout the coast.

“Mostly I wanted to write this as an homage to these great lifeguards who pulled these amazing rescues off,” he said.

Ten of the stories in the book describe lifeguard performances that earned them the Medal of Valor, which honors public safety officials for acts of bravery.

Those amazing rescues are not often seen by the public, because most of the time lifeguards prevent them before they happen.

“We understand the ocean, we see how the dynamics are kind of changing, and how the longshore current is drifting and where the rifts are,” Vodrazka said. “Almost all of our rescues are preventive. We go out really early. Usually just as the person realizes they’re in trouble, we’re already there, so they don’t have to go through a lot of trauma. We bring them to shore.”

But, he continued, “Every now and then you make a rescue that is a really serious rescue, where you realize if you hadn’t been there the person would have drowned.”

“It’s something we don’t talk about very much but it’s very real,” Vodrazka said. “And those are monumental events for the victims and they’re monumental events for the lifeguards as well.”

Vodrazka said his career, which has spanned nine U.S. presidents, has included 1,000 ocean rescues.

“I’m not sure what’s more noble than saving someone’s life,” he said.

Vodrazka, who has taught over 3,000 ocean lifeguards, said he will continue teaching emergency medical technician courses at Miramar College, and he wants to spend more time traveling.

“Stories from Sea Level: The Heroic and Humorous Adventures of California’s Ocean Lifeguards” is available on Amazon.