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Rob McGowan’s career has been one wild ride. After more than 40 years of protecting Los Angeles County beachgoers, including in Malibu, the retired captain ocean lifeguard is making another splash as a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient at the International Surf Festival Lifeguard Medal of Valor dinner.
The event, 6 to 10 p.m. today at the King Harbor Yacht Club in Redondo Beach, honors the “Protectors of the Coast and Public” -- Los Angeles County lifeguards who have displayed acts of heroism in the line of duty. The dinner, sponsored by the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce, returns after being canceled last year due to COVID-19 and kicks off the city’s surf festival, which runs through Aug. 1.
McGowan got his feet wet in the profession early on when, at 9 years old, he became an L.A. County junior guard. He went on to become a recurrent (seasonal) lifeguard for the county, teaching junior lifeguards, several of whom became permanent ocean lifeguards and officers, at Zuma and Torrance beaches. McGowan was promoted to senior ocean lifeguard in 1984 and eight years later was named a captain. During that time, he worked, with the exception of Catalina Island, every county Lifeguard Department section.
In 2009, McGowan retired as captain from the L.A. County Fire Department Lifeguard Division. With a passion for promoting “beach and water safety, protection and enjoyment of the beaches, mentoring the next generation of aquatic lifesavers” and raising awareness throughout the world of the importance of the professional ocean lifeguard, according to an event announcement, he is active with various like-minded groups. McGowan has served and chaired the boards of the California Surf Lifesaving Association as president and as an executive committee member and Competition Committee chair of the United States Lifesaving Association, where he represented the U.S. in several international locations, including Australia, Japan, Germany and South Africa.
While working as a lifeguard, he often competed at the International Surf Festival, placing in the Taplin and Intracrew, as well at other regional, national and international events. Among his favorite competitions were swimming, paddling and Ironman. McGowan now serves as president of the International Surf Festival and event coordinator for the ISF Lifeguard Events, which, over the course of two days, displays the lifesaving skills and athleticism from lifeguards across the state, including L.A. County.
McGowan, who recently moved from Manhattan Beach to Huntington Beach to be “grandson-adjacent,” has three sons: Hunter, Morgan and Taylor, the latter two following in their father’s sandy, lifeguard footsteps.