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History of Club Tortuga:

Since the 1970's, tourists and surfers alike had been traveling to a small village on Mexico's Pacific Coast, a town named Puerto Escondido, to enjoy its beauty, and to challenge the largest surf in the Western Hemisphere. Dubbed the "Mexican Pipeline", these awesome waves turned the sport of surfing more into a "BULLFIGHT" than a leisure activity. The powerful currents and the shallow sand bars, contribute to a year-round danger for swimmers and surfers alike. It is truly any lifeguard's worst nightmare. "No Baywatch here!!" It's hard to imagine that, up until a few years ago, there were no lifeguards on this 3-mile stretch of beach not to mention anywhere in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico.

A few local surfers were making rescues without equipment in conditions that would make any trained and equipped lifeguard think twice. Yet these brave young locals would continually put themselves in harm's way to try and prevent the numerous drownings that would occur each and every year.

Realizing the problem, a few California lifeguards and surfers, who annually journeyed to this "secret spot", started bringing down rescue equipment just for themselves and their friends' own protection. As always, they would leave the equipment behind with the locals as they ended their vacations.

In 1986, Bob Burnside, a retired Chief Lifeguard from Los Angeles County, came to Puerto Escondido to surf this "Mexican Pipeline". Since he had heard of the dangerous conditions and the need to bring rescue equipment, he arrived with 6 rescue tubes and a few pairs of fins. Checking into the Sante Fe Hotel, with a room overlooking Zicatella Playa, his next stop was the Cantina. As he came into view of this notorious "Mexican Pipeline", he could not believe that he was looking at 25-ft. high, beautiful "A-frame" waves rolling in along the playa! He also recognized the horrendous rip currents spaced every 100 meters or so along the shore, boiling and churning with kelp, sand and everything they came in contact with as they raced violently seaward!

In the days following, a young local surfer by the name of Jose Estrada introduced himself to Bob and starting telling the story of how he and a few of his surfers pals had over the years made many rescue without any equipment or training. Burnside, with his years of knowledge, not only with American lifeguard operations but also the volunteer lifeguard programs of Australia and New Zealand, suggested to Estrada the concept of establishing a local volunteer lifeguard club. With Burnside's assistance from California and an American living on Playa Zicatella, Jack Buck (Joaquin Venado), offering to act as liaison to the newly-formed group, Jose was supplied with rescue equipment, lifeguard training and knowledge of Club structuring. Beginning with that initial meeting, the Zicatella Salvavidas Club de Mexico was founded, and Jose Luis Estrada voted as its captain, along with 7 members of the original charter: Jorge Perez, Miguel Baylon, Juan Luis Bohorqez, Pablo Juarez, Jim Prewitt, Pablo Sarmiento, and Francisco Samperio.

As the agreement between these two groups developed, the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) of America voted to recognize the efforts being extended, and gave it's full support to the new group. Bob Burnside was appointed as the USLA Liaison to Mexico. Having been an administrator for many years, Burnside quickly realized the need to take their case to the government authorities of the State of Oaxaca.

In 1994, Bob journeyed to the state capital and made contact with the American Consulate, Mark Leyes. Together they were able to gain access to the inner structure of the state government and present the Salvavidas Club project. At the conclusion of those meetings, Burnside was asked by the governor's office to submit a master water safety plan for the entire coastal region of Oaxaca.

In 1995, during on a honeymoon/surfing trip to Puerto Escondido, Huntington Beach Marine Safety Officer, Matthew Karl, ran into Burnside while surfing. They discovered that they had much in common -not only the love of surfing, but knowledge of lifesaving and the recognition of the apparent need for lifesaving efforts on the local beaches. Karl immediately volunteered to join in this project and, with the young locals over dinner one night, they formed the "CLUB TORTUGA". Returning to California, Matt Karl was elected the first chairman of the newly formed Club Tortuga, while Chief Burnside accepted a role as Chief Advisor Patron. Additional officers were elected to establish the mission and goals for the group. Early members from agencies throughout California and the US were: Matt Karl; Kai Weisser; Bob Burnside; Marshall Parks; Tom Thayer; Don Johnson; Rob Webb; Victor Zavala; Gabriel Correa; and Roberto Madrigal.

The year 1996 saw great accomplishments for the organization. Not only the official beginning of Club Tortuga, but also the formation of Los Busos Club Zipolite, as well as other remote playa volunteer groups. The Junior and Handicapped Junior Lifeguard programs were started within Zicatella Salvavidas Club de Mexico and they both have continued with great progress to this day.

The first edition of the quarterly Club Tortuga Newsletter was written and distributed by Club Editor Dave Nelson. The First Mexican Lifeguard Exchange between Puerto Escondido and Huntington Beach involving a 10-man squad, received training for a two-week period from July 2-16, 1996, as well as their return to Mexico with donated rescue boards, buoys, fins, first aid gear, etc.. Funds were raised for the construction of the State Headquarters building at Zicatella playa. The Zicatella Hdqts. Ground Breaking ceremony began on Sept. 1996, and the Zicatella Headquarters was formally dedicated in a ceremony on Sept. 17, 1997.

In 1997, Ret. Chief of Lifeguards of Dade County, Florida, Jim Holland was officially appointed the Chief Mexican Liaison to Club Tortuga and, in 1999, he decided to establish residency in Puerto Escondido and since has assisted in training the Zicatella Salvavidas.

In 1998, the completed translation of the USLA Beach Training Manual into Spanish and made available to the Mexican people. The development of a Spanish-language Jungle Basic Training Manual has been made accessible thru this website for downloading to any interested parties.

In 2000 the Save The Sea Turtle program was initiated by the Zicatella Salvavidas Club and Club Liaison Jim Holland, which involved protecting and holding tortoise eggs until hatching and allowed for community participation of the hatchlings' release back to the ocean at Zicatella Beach each year.

Jack Buck accepted the position to develop outreach programs in the region, developed the world's first Handicapped Junior Lifeguard program with Pina Palmera Children's Hospital, and established the first Mexican Lifeguard Championship at Zipolite Beach.

2001 Oaxacan Governor's wife, Senora Guadalupe Murat, requested an expansion of the Junior Lifeguard programs to professional level.

State Dept. requests that Holland go to Hualtulco to set up a similar lifeguard program. Since those early efforts of tourists and locals, thru the late 80's to the present, Club Tortuga's accomplishments have grown to include the following:
» Development of this website;
» Various fund raising efforts for necessary equipments
» Development of various outreach lifeguard programs;
» Work with the Oaxaca State government on hurricane disaster and relief plans


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