A hero’s farewell: Lifeguards gather in Huntington Beach to say goodbye to one of their own

The beach conditions were just as Alex Peabody liked them: big, choppy surf slamming the shore with strong rip currents that could challenge young aspiring lifeguards.

Peabody, who for years was in charge of training thousands of new California State Lifeguards on the sands of Huntington Beach, knew that the rookies had to be prepared for anything to save lives.

More than 100 lifeguards from various agencies around the state showed up on the sand at Huntington State Beach, Friday, to pay tribute to Peabody, who died May 22 at age 55 after a battle with ALS.

The memorial service included lifeguard trainees forming a gauntlet on the sand with their yellow buoys held high while chanting Peabody’s name. Lifeguard Shane Scoggins ran a “missing man” memorial buoy bearing Peabody’s name to sea, where he boarded the back of a personal watercraft in the rough surf to hand it off to rescue boats.

San Clemente seasonal lifeguard David Coy, 22, was given the first Alex Peabody Perpetual Recognition Award at the ceremony for exemplifying the professionalism and inspired leadership Peabody looked for in new lifeguards. Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Mike Beuerlein awarded Peabody the United States Surf Lifesaving Association Award of Merit, presented to his family at the ceremony.

Peabody, who spent much of his career and his later years in Santa Cruz, was described as a passionate, hard-working guard who held one of the highest titles – State Parks Chief Lifeguard – before retiring in 2012.

He started his career as a seasonal lifeguard in 1980, becoming a permanent guard three years later working in Huntington Beach and Crystal Cove State Park.

He returned to Santa Cruz in the late ’80s, but spent months in Orange County each year while he was in charge of training new recruits. He helped build the Santa Cruz Lifeguard and Junior Guards program into models that others emulated and fought to establish a lifeguard service in Monterey and the Russian River.

Mike Brousard, a retired lifeguard supervisor, remembers first meeting Peabody shortly after he became a permanent guard.

“We were lifeguard nerds, that’s what we thought about, that’s what we did, that’s what we talked about constantly,” Brousard said. “That was the common base of our friendship, and stayed that way for the rest of our life.”

Brousard said Peabody was a man who had very high standards and expectations, and was all about passion, focus, commitment and standing up for his beliefs.

“His interest was public service, public safety and making sure everyone went home at night,” he said.

He said Peabody would want the incoming state lifeguards to give every day their best.

“What you do is very important, never forget that. You are the future of open-water lifesaving,” Brousard said at the ceremony. “Carry it forward with pride.”

Contact the writer: lconnelly@ocregister.com

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