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Spain, home to Laguna for the holidays and now off to Australia – the life and times of a local lifeguard surf racer

You’ve arrived in 2024! Happy New Year! And welcome to our new look for Stu News Laguna (more on that in a minute).

I recently received a note from Rob Patterson. He’s the president of the Laguna Beach Ocean Lifeguard Foundation. Rob told me that during the holiday vacation, Claire Kelly, a young woman that grew up in Laguna Beach and played every level of age group water polo in town, including for Laguna Beach High School and then UC Santa Barbara, would be home for a visit and might be worthy of a story.

So, I gave it a look, and By George, she certainly is more than worthy.

First off, Claire, during her somewhat recent high school years, made varsity as a freshman center defender on a team that won CIF two out of her four years (2017 and 2019) as a prep.

Following that, she moved on to Santa Barbara and became a proud Gaucho. She continued playing water polo and while there also completed a double major in Global Studies and Spanish.

During her summers, Kelly stayed busy too. She added becoming a Laguna Beach lifeguard to the mix, something she has continued doing each year. It’s important because it plays a big part in what’s next in her life’s journey.

In fact, it was during those times that the local lifeguard foundation introduced her to the sport of surf racing, something she remains “extremely thankful for.”

But first, following her college graduation last spring, Kelly decided to make up for something she had previously missed out on. It was the fact that because of her longtime commitment to everything water polo, she was never afforded the opportunity to study abroad. So, this year she decided to take up on an offer to work as an English Language Assistant at IES El Olivo, a high school in Madrid, Spain.

Submitted photo

Claire Kelly proudly smiles after putting college life in the rearview mirror last spring

In fact, she “loves it,” which could translate to a precursor for her someday getting credentialed and becoming a teacher.

However, before that happens, there’s still some lifeguarding to do. Last summer, as one of California’s best, she participated with teammates in both the Cal Regionals and National lifeguarding competitions. She excelled, particularly at the Nationals where she placed second in the Run Swim Run and third in the Board Race, in addition to participating very well in multiple relays.

Her performance was impressive enough that she now has been invited as one of only six women to participate in the Wieland Shield which comes up later this month – a long-standing relationship and competition between California Lifeguards and the Victorian State Surf Life Saving Association of Australia.

The Wieland Shield is the name of the perpetual trophy awarded to the winner of that two-day lifesaving event that dates back to 1967. The exchange offers ocean lifesaving knowledge, skills and techniques, and has continued unbroken for the past five-plus decades.

William A. Wieland, whom the Shield trophy was named, was a U.S. Consul General to Australia who supported exchanges between California and Victoria lifeguards.

The California team will be made up of six females and six males.

Kelly, as you might imagine, is looking forward to being a part of it all, for what will be her first pilgrimage to the continent of Australia.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to absorb as much as I can from the other lifeguards so that I can incorporate and share their lifesaving practices into my work when I get back home,” said Kelly.

“These competitions mimic what we do as lifeguards every day. When we race we are trying to find the fastest way to navigate the surf line, similar to how as a lifeguard we would want to find the fastest way to reach someone who needs help. So for me and many other guards surf racing is about both competition and improving ocean safety skills.”

Photo by Meinardi Photography

Claire Kelly moves towards the beach in her board race competition

When I caught up with Kelly last weekend, she had just completed a “very cold” ocean swim training session, in between storm clouds, as preparation for the upcoming competition.

Being back on home ground, or water in this instance, reminded her of what she’s missing. “Every lifeguard agency has its own unique set of challenges. For example with our small coves in Laguna Beach, our lifeguard department has a lot of experience responding to and preventing emergencies relating to our rocky coastline,” noted Kelly. “I hope to share knowledge and techniques from my experiences unique to lifeguarding our coastline and I can’t wait to learn as much as I can from other ocean athletes.”

Her California team will first head to Sydney next Monday, Jan. 8, to join in on a collection of super surf team events, do some training and then eventually venture onto Melbourne for the Shield competition, et al.

There’s a lot to be thankful for. “I’m very grateful for the Laguna Beach Ocean Lifeguard Foundation and everyone involved, specifically Jon Brick and Rob Patterson for making this opportunity possible for me,” said Kelly. “The Laguna Beach Ocean Lifeguard Foundation has done an amazing job of ensuring that we have the resources we need to train and that we have the opportunity to compete at our regional competitions and national competitions. I feel so supported!”

For Kelly, it’s required her to extend her holiday vacation by an additional 20 days before getting back to everyday life in Madrid.

And what do her students back in Madrid think about her Australian excursion? “They’ve asked me to bring back sharks’ teeth and an Australian flag,” said Kelly with a laugh.

It was refreshing to talk with someone working so hard in so many different facets of life, yet seemingly finding time to enjoy it all.

After all, Spain one day, Laguna Beach the next, and on to Australia. Not too bad.

Good luck Claire and rep us well.

She also reminded me that LBOLF is a volunteer organization which provides financial support to our ocean lifeguards for competition events, educational exchanges and scholarships, as well as supporting junior lifeguards who might not otherwise be able to participate in our junior guards program.

It’s run by three former Laguna Beach lifeguards and all funding comes from individuals and businesses in our Laguna Beach. Check it out at

• • •

Up front of this column I mentioned the redesign. You’ve had to have noticed it if you’re a regular reader of Stu News. It’s certainly different. Bigger fonts to make reading easier; no right “gutter” to clean up the overall look; a better presentation on phones and stories at the top to entice you into each edition.

Sure, we’re proud of it…but we’re also interested in what you, our readers, have to say. Let me know, good or bad, at

Thanks also to our advertisers for joining us in this effort. We don’t take their support lightly and couldn’t do it without them. The redesign hopefully presents their messages in an even cleaner and more impactful fashion.

It’s important to us that, when possible, you support them because they allow us to continue bringing you the community’s news.

While some are new and some are old, these are the ones that give us life: Laguna Beach County Water District, Hoag, City of Laguna Beach, Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Dance Festival, Festival of the Arts/Pageant of the Masters, First Thursdays Art Walk, Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Food Pantry, Kontrapunktus, John Stanaland, Meital Taub – Livel, Amy Calvert – Tim Smith Real Estate Group, Mike Johnson Group, Ray McAfoose, Lindsay Clark-Shields, Bob Chapman, Kendall Clark, Gary Boisen, Kristine Torrance, Marcus Skenderian, Pam Levin, Todd Davis, Tracy Lineback, Tracy Naess Browne, Spinnaker Investment Group, UCI – Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, The Termite Guy, Coast Hardware, Laguna Beach Books, Julie Laughton, Net-Works Laguna Beach, Unconditional, In-N-Out, The Cliff, Oliver’s Osteria, Mercado Laguna, zpizza, Nirvana Kitchen + Pantry, GG’s Bistro, George F.J. Hill Insurance, Laguna Urgent Care, John Campbell Insurance, Pacific Closet & Garage, Laguna Health Club, Patrick & Joann Freeman, Art of Fitness, Laguna Beach Physical Therapy, Health In Balance, Laguna Beach Aesthetics, Laguna Canyon Smog, CJ Air Conditioning & Heating, Sandi’s Seaside Cat Sitting, and the many others that come in and out throughout the course of the year.

They’re all important and we thank, thank, thank them!

If you want in, we’d love to have you! Again, let me know, we’ll figure out what works. (

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