SEPTEMBER 7, 1987
His job is rescuing struggling swimmers, but lifeguard Tom Trager has also coaxed his fair share of fleeing lawbreakers out of the waves off Laguna Beach. The pursuing police may employ helicopters, a P.A. system and spotlights to convince criminals to return to shore, yet Trager has something even more persuasive: "I know I can outswim them," he says.
Trager, who epitomized the Southern California lifestyle when he splashed across our cover 15 years ago, may have been involved in his most daring rescue just last month, at the Kea Lani Hotel in Maui. And it wasn't a person he helped to save—it was his own wedding. Mike Tyson and his entourage, staying at the hotel while Tyson prepared for his June 8 fight with Lennox Lewis, were making so much noise that Trager and his wedding coordinator asked the former heavyweight champion to go elsewhere during the May 11 beachfront ceremony. To Trager's surprise, Tyson obliged, and the nuptials of Trager, 34, and Emilie Nolan, 28, went off smoothly and quietly. "Who knows with that guy," says Trager. "I was concerned that he might start tearing down tables."
It was just another day at the beach for Trager, who has been a lifeguard for 17 years with the city of Laguna Beach. Trager typically mans one of roughly 30 lifeguard towers along Laguna Beach's rocky coves or patrols the beach in a Toyota 4Runner. He is also a professional skimboarder. (In skimboarding, competitors get a running start, jump on their boards in the retreating surf, head into a wave and then ride it back to shore.) Trager won back-to-back skimboard titles at the Aliso Beach Victoria Pro-Am World Championships in 1987 and '88 and took third in '99 and 2000. Last year he placed fifth. "Now they give me crap about being the old guy," he says.
No one has given him grief for his cover appearance, for which he was photographed at Aliso Beach a few weeks after he'd won his, and skimboarding's, first world championship. Trager says yes, the cover appearance got him a little extra attention from the ladies on the beach, but that was years ago. Now he revels in his anonymity. "I'm waiting for the day SI has a party for everyone who's ever appeared on the cover," says Trager, "but I don't get an invitation because they don't know who I am." They do now.