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Restored 1974 lifeguard Jeep is a reminder of simpler days in Laguna Beach 

Posted by | November 4, 2016 | Lifeguards, Open Water Lifeguards

LAGUNA BEACH – Former Laguna Beach lifeguard Al Mendez spent seven months restoring a vintage lifeguard Jeep that is likely the only one of its kind along the Southern California coastline.ADVERTISINGinRead invented by TeadsThe restoration, which began as a fun project to do while reminiscing over a few beers with fellow former lifeguards Rob Patterson and Jon Brick, turned into a bigger undertaking. The effort brought the fun and challenges of being a Laguna Beach lifeguard back to the trio, who remember the simpler days of guarding Laguna’s beaches.Last week, Mendez, Patterson and Brick handed over the restored vintage rig to the city’s Laguna Beach Lifeguard Department. Like the Laguna Beach Fire Department’s 1931 Seagrave antique fire engine, the Jeep will participate in educational community events and at Project Wipeout at the OC Fair next year. On Sunday, Laguna Beach lifeguards showed it off during a Halloween fundraiser to honor fallen Laguna Beach Motor Officer Jon Coutchie.Laguna Beach lifeguards – and most every other guard shop along beaches from San Diego to Santa Barbara – used the bright-yellow Jeeps. They were open-air, accessible to the public and drove along the coast to the water’s edge.There were three Jeeps in operation – in South Laguna, at Main Beach and north up to Corona del Mar. They were used in Laguna from about 1973 to 1986.To the guards who used them, they were symbols of the freedom of an endless summer, and for many, like Mendez, who moved on to other professions, the Jeeps represented a symbol of the best years of their lives.“It was a different time then,” Mendez said. “Today you have Toyota 4Runners or other SUVs. They’re nothing like these were. The experience I got through lifeguarding changed my life. The camaraderie, the responsibility and the life-saving moments were all life-changers. To me, those were some of the best days of my life.”A labor of loveAs a hobby, Mendez restored old BMWs, Volkswagen beetles and buses. He finished his last project in 2015 and started planning the restoration of the lifeguard Jeep, a 1974 Jeep CJ5 he found on Craigslist. The then-green Jeep was owned by a private pilot who lived in Highland. Mendez bought the Jeep for $4,000 and put an additional $10,000 into it.Mendez’s brother, Jed Mendez, worked on the engine while Mendez and Brick looked around for the perfect bright-yellow color. They used a historical photo of a 1973 Jeep from Laguna to get the color right, and the Jeep was taken to Tijuana for painting. Next, Mendez went online and found gear such as the rescue cage, buoys and a red light for the top. Jed Mendez, 59, died Aug. 31.“His sudden death was tragic,” Al Mendez said. “The Jeep will always put a smile on my face in his memory for all the work he did on it.”Brick, who shapes surfboards, re-created the lifeguard rescue board for the top of the Jeep.“You can’t get boards from that era anymore,” Brick said. “They’ve evolved and are more high-performance. The ones we used then were state-of-the-art, but are not what they use today. Hobie Alter was shaping those boards then. I went back and hand-shaped it.”When the Jeep was done, it was appraised at Jeeps R Us for $21,500, Mendez said.To celebrate its completion, Mendez threw a party at his house and dedicated the Jeep to the memory of Laguna Beach Lifeguard Chief Bruce Baird, who ran the guards from 1973 to 1991.“He was a second father to many of us,” Mendez said. “He was an incredible mentor and leader. He died from cancer in his early 60s; he was much too young.”That night, the Jeep became like an E-Ticket ride, with veteran lifeguards taking it out for a spin to relive memories.“It takes you back,” Brick said. “That was your tool when you patrolled as a 20-year-old. You remember the camaraderie and all the situations. It was like a pump to spike your brain to remember.”Keeping It localLast week, Mendez and Patterson presented the Jeep to Laguna Beach Lifeguard Chief Kevin Snow and Laguna Beach Capt. Tom Trager on behalf of 30 veteran and active lifeguards.Trager was just starting out as a lifeguard at age 16 when the Jeeps were still in use. They influenced his decision to become a lifeguard.“I grew up in Laguna and I used to see them roll up to the beaches,” he said. “It was part of the professionalism I could appreciate. The towers and the beaches with the yellow Jeeps definitely drew me in.”For Mendez and other former Laguna Beach lifeguards, lifeguarding and the Jeep symbolize a brotherhood of mentoring, trust and self-reliance that they hope will be passed on.“For the young kids growing up today, the Junior Lifeguards, it will add another dimension about belonging to this organization where there is real history behind it,” Brick said. “It gives more history to what you’re doing. It’s not just something that will come and go.”Contact the writer: 714-796-2254 or

Source: Restored 1974 lifeguard Jeep is a reminder of simpler days in Laguna Beach – The Orange County Register

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