There was an incident in my city of Hermosa Beach over the Fourth of July weekend involving a local news reporter, a mosh pit, a fireplug of a man with a motorcycle gang-quality horseshoe mustache, and um, some beer.
At least that’s how I would describe it. But I’m a former Mayor of Hermosa Beach.
The various news outlets that covered the story described it less charitably. For example, the Los Angeles Daily News headline about the incident read: “Everybody’s talking about KTLA reporter getting puked on in Hermosa Beach.” The New York Post was even more succinct: “Reporter gets vomited on during live newscast.”
I know what you’re thinking - So what if a reporter wandered out into the splash zone on Hermosa Beach on the Fourth of July? She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens. And what does a mosh pit of beer-chugging revelers have to do with local politics?
Everything. Stay with me here.
See, if you’re a Hermosa Beach local, you knew what was going to happen to that reporter as soon as the shot went live. It was inevitable.
Why? Because the reporter was walking into the finish-line mosh pit at the Hermosa Beach Ironman, and that’s what happens.
The Hermosa Beach Ironman race has been held annually on the Fourth of July since 1974. The rules are simple: the first contestant to run a mile, paddle a mile, and chug a six-pack of beer wins. The only other rule is the beer-chugger must keep the six-pack down for 20-minutes. For most, running a mile and paddling a mile is challenge enough, but pounding a lukewarm six-pack afterwards? Ah, now there’s the rub.
Race officials, (yes, there are race officials), monitor the contestants as they emerge from the surf and track which are able to successfully conquer the infamous third-leg. Can’t keep that fourth can of Coors Light down? Sorry, Contestant No. 243, maybe you should have trained harder. Better luck next year.
Most participants have no hope of competing with the watermen, volleyball players, and pro athletes who can complete the course - beer and all - in under 20 minutes. In 1997, for example, the leader after the mile run was the 10th place finisher of the 1,500-meter race at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
The Average Joe contestants run, paddle, and drink too, but they don’t make any effort to keep their beer down. Just the opposite. Some actually prep for the race’s final leg by pre-drinking food dye to make the inevitable foamy eruption at the finish-line more, um, colorful? Red and blue are patriotic favorites.
Sometimes the contestants simply vomit in the sand, but others paint targets on their backs (and chests) and make a sport of trying to hurl on each other.
Which brings us back to local politics and the unfortunate incident with the reporter.
When I served on the Hermosa Beach City Council I would invariably get e-mails and phone calls from residents who would see a story like this one, clutch their pearls and hyperventilate that such a thing could exist in their city. “Purposeful vomiting on our beaches” as one ALL CAPS e-mail I received complained, “was wrong on so many levels.”
I can’t say I completely disagree. So why didn’t the City Council put an end to the Hermosa Beach Ironman?
Because as strange as it will be to those of you reading this who aren’t locals, the race is a Hermosa Beach Fourth of July tradition. The race is a nod to my city’s surf-punk past, but along with the surfers and volleyball players Facebook execs and hedge fund managers now also pay tribute. It is gross. It is stupid. Even so, the vast majority of Hermosa Beach residents view it as being no more ridiculous than watching who can stuff the most hotdogs down their throats in two-minutes, or coaxing a groundhog out of its hole to see if the rodent sees its shadow.
Or as the Ironman’s organizer (and former Hermosa Beach Mayor) said about the race: There are two camps in Hermosa Beach, one camp, and this is a very small fraction of the community, wants to kick me out of office because I compete in the Ironman. The other, much larger portion of the populace, wants to kick me out because I came in second instead of first.
Every year I make a point to go out to see the Ironman. It now starts at 9 a.m. and is over a few hours later. Hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people surround the mosh pit at the finish-line to watch the contestants try to complete the competition’s third leg without being, um, disqualified. Retirement-age parents shake their heads and laugh at their grown children who compete. Wives holding babies watch their otherwise respectable, SUV driving 9-to-5 husbands doing their best to summon the ghost of fraternity parties past and keep the six-pack down.
The Hermosa Beach Ironman is equal parts disgusting, completely and insanely local, and perversely fun to watch.
It’s also an example of something that sets Hermosa Beach apart from everywhere else. Every community has something similar to the Ironman, albeit probably less gross. If you want to get involved in local politics, know what those things are.
And if you plan to run for office in Hermosa Beach you certainly need know what the Ironman is. Competing in it might not be a bad idea, either.