Buddy Belshe, Longtime Newport Beach Lifeguard, Has Died

posted: December 20th, 2012 11:41 am | 7Comments

Buddy Belshe, a Newport Beach lifeguard captain who retired but returned as a seasonal guard at Big Corona State Beach, has died. He was 78.

Belshe died Wednesday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to an email sent to lifeguard staff. He had worked as a Newport Beach lifeguard for 47 years and spent a total of 57 summer guarding lives at the beach.

“He taught me to lifeguard,” said Lifeguard Battalion Chief Jim Turner. “I met him in 1973 at lifeguard tryouts. When he retired and came back as a seasonal guard, I said, ‘You’re my captain…’ and he said, ‘No, you’re my boss.’ He was a lifeguard all his life, a waterman.”

Born in 1934 to Gene and Johnnie Belshe, Belshe grew up in Huntington Beach, where his father was that city’s first full-time paid lifeguard and his mother was an aquatics instructor, Turner said. He was a Huntington Beach High School All-American Swimmer in 1952 and 1953 and the Helms Foundation Outstanding Junior Swimmer of the Year in 1952, according to an emailed biography. He was the Orange Coast College Athlete of the Year in 1955 and an All-America Swimmer in 1954 and 1955; a University of Denver Collegiate All-America Swimmer; and he placed 9th at the 1956 Olympic trials in the 1500 meter freestyle. He was selected as a collegiate All America swimmer 13 times and won many United States Masters Swimming National Championships, setting many records in more than 50 years of Masters swimming. He graduated California State University in Long Beach in 1959.

In 1950 when he was 16 years old, Belshe began work as a lifeguard in Huntington Beach and was hired in 1960 to be a full-time division supervisor in Newport Beach. He retired as the city’s operations captain in 1987 but missed it and returned to work the next year as a seasonal guard.

He spent 19 summers working at Big Corona until he retired in 2007 because of an on-duty injury. Turner said Big Corona was his favorite beach.

Belsche was a founding member of the United States Lifesaving Association and was awarded life membership to that group. In 1976, he founded the Newport Beach Pier to Pier Swim that has more than 350 swimmers each year. He also swam the La Jolla Rough Water Swim every year from 1947 until 2005 when an injury kept him from participating. The lifeguard’s email said that swim was cancelled twice — once because of a shark warning and another time because of a polio outbreak.

He also loved running, friends said.

“He was a low-key and calm individual, but he was an intense competitor,” said Turner, who said he was never able beat him in a race.

“Buddy was considered the best ‘pure’ lifeguard on the force,” the email said. “His ability to concentrate on water observation for long periods of time, quickly identify rescues and respond early to potential victims, frequently before they realize that they are in distress, was exceptional.”

A buoy off the Newport Pier near the lifeguard headquarters is named Buddy’s Buoy in his honor, officials said.

After retiring from lifeguarding in 2007, Belshe worked at the Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin until 2010.

Belsche had been living in Anaheim, the email said. He is survived by five adult children and five grandchildren. Services are being arranged and will take place in early January.

Photo courtesy of Al Schaben.

7 Responses to “Buddy Belshe, Longtime Newport Beach Lifeguard, Has Died”


Glen Lindenstadt

December 20th, 2012

Buddy was not only a Great guy, but always had a smile on his face and never said a bad word about anyone. Even in his seventies he was guarding the waters at CDM with great diligence and commitment to being the legendary OC Waterman that he was. Buddy was happiest swimming in his beloved ocean, a daily mile swim or more at Big Corona. A great role model for young Lifeguards. With the passing of Ray Bray and Buddy Belshe we lost two of the most exceptional Watermen on the Coast if not the country as Lifeguards, All-American Swimmers, Coaches, Fathers, husbands, and leaders of young man and women.


December 21st, 2012

Buddy was my friend for many years. We sometimes swam at the same time. Not together, I couldn't possibility keep up with him, and he was 20 years my senior, but over the years we had many good conversations at the beach or on the bluff over Big Corona, and always his eyes would be on the water, watching, watching. I remember one time during large surf I was paddling out on my board and a big set of "foamers" broke off the jetty. I was in the trough below a wave and surely would have been pounded. Buddy was sitting in his jeep by the tower, and I suddenly heard him over over the loudspeaker, "OUTSIDE!!! PADDLE, PADDLE!!!" His "heads up" gave me just enough warning (and incentive) to paddle hard and get over the waves before they broke on me. I'll miss you my friend. ;(

andrew bailey

December 27th, 2012

I remember Buddy as a great competitor also. In between all his swimming he also competed in triathlons and running events. I was glad hat only once every few years we were in the same age group. I was good to see him at the Thurs night CDM swims in his Jeep as I knew he was keeping a good watch out for us.


January 2nd, 2013

Been a friend of Buddys for over 55 years, learned alot from him.Buddy was a great Lifeguard , wonderful competitor and great teacher of Lifeguarding. We will all miss him and his smile . To his daughter Lin just need to say Thank You for takeing care of Newports greatest lifguard durning his illness. RIP oceanman

andrew strenk

January 2nd, 2013

Buddy was part of the Southern California distance swimming tradition and he helped pave the way for those who followed in later years. He was already past his prime as a competitor when I first swam against him in the early 1960s, but he was very inspirational to those of us coming up and just getting started,

Dale Bowman

January 4th, 2013

How sad, I have known Buddy since I was a freshman at Huntington Beach, he and his whole family have done so much for aquatics in Southern California, Buddy will be missed.

Ray clever

January 7th, 2013

The sad news of Buddy's passing has even reached me down in Australia where I still volunteer at 68, with the Burleigh Heads Surf Lifesaving Club. For watermen like Ray Bray and Buddy Belshe "legendary" seems like too small a word. They both had profound effects on the lives of so many people, particularly young lifeguards. I know I held them both in awe and greatest respect. They never considered themselves legends in their own times...but they were...and always will be!

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