BY ALISON BURMEISTER
“Hello, this is Rob LeMond, please do not leave text messages on this number but I would like to have your voice message, so please leave it after the beep. Thank you.” *BEEP*
If you recognize this message, then you have likely registered your child for one of Rob LeMond’s swim lessons or surf camps.
LeMond was the 2021 recipient of Malibu’s prestigious “Jake Kuredjian Citizenship Award.” He is a classic American pianist and real estate broker, but thousands of Westside families best know him as their swim and surf instructor.
He has single-handedly operated his business for the past five decades, from a landline. LeMond insists on talking to every parent who enrolls their kid in one of his courses. He takes swimming and water safety as seriously as he does his phone calls.
“Some people are turned off by my ‘old-school’ process,” LeMond said, but he sees it as a chance to learn a lot about a parent when they call. “If you don’t have time to talk about the most important person in your life, then maybe we aren’t the right fit for you.
“Considering where we live, so close to the ocean, and with so many pools, water safety is essential,” he said.
Rob is the “real deal” said Jefferson Wagner, owner of Zuma Jay’s surf shop and former mayor of Malibu. “If you want your kid to learn how to swim and navigate the ocean, you want them to learn from Rob.”
Wagner, who sent his kids to Rob’s camp years ago, said he traded wet suits for lessons, because he couldn’t afford to pay for the camp.
When LeMond was a young boy, in Santa Monica, his dad, Bob LeMond, a well-known radio and television announcer for Hollywood television shows like Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet, enrolled him in a Brentwood swim school on San Vicente. Rob was a natural and found he was able to hold his breath for extended periods of time.
He continued to swim in High School for Santa Monica High and in college for USC. Eventually he took a job teaching swim lessons at Santa Monica High School, because “he was not old enough to be a beach lifeguard.”
When he was finally old enough, he passed the lifeguard test and was offered a job but didn’t take it because “They wanted me to start in June, but I wanted to keep teaching swimming” Rob said. “I told them I had obligations to my students and families.”
A consummate teacher, Rob has a gift for helping kids learn to swim. He has a gentle approach that puts kids at ease. Though his classes are in a group setting, he teaches to the individual.
Anyone whose child has learned from Rob will say he has a “magic power.” Bliss Ellis Knapp, long-time client, and once host to Rob’s lessons in her back yard pool said, “I could not convince my daughter to get out of the hot tub and into the pool.”
Not only did Rob get her into the pool, but the ocean, too.
One of Rob’s biggest joys in teaching kids is seeing them get over their fears and seeing what they can accomplish.
His favorite beaches in Malibu are Zuma, Broad and Escondido. He said Escondido might be his favorite because he has so many memories there. Rob began his first Surf and Ocean Safety camp in 1968 at Escondido beach, where he still operates today.
If you have ever been to Rob’s camp you know every morning begins with “the talk.” He goes over basic rules and shows the campers how to read waves, rip currents, tidal changes, wind direction and in-shore currents.
Once the kids are older, dressed in full body wet suits, because as Rob would say, “the Pacific Ocean is not always pacific,“ they make their morning swim out to the “yellow boat.” Rob requires that all campers make that swim before the activities of the day, which could include surfing, boogie boarding, kayaking, waterskiing, snorkeling, tubing, wake boarding, knee boarding, boogie skiing and even spike ball.
Rob acquired the boat in 1971 when he realized he needed to have a place for the kids to swim to. “I used to tell them to swim to the buoy and the kelp beds and they looked at me like I had lost my mind,” he said.
Rob’s long-time friend and partner, Kurt Lampson, who originally met Rob when he taught his own son Kai to swim, joined Rob in 1984. While one of them was on shore, the other one could be out on a boat with the campers. Kurt who ran the sailboat for camp loved to see the awe in the kids’ eyes when they came up from snorkeling. Kurt retired this summer, but he and Rob both agree that counselor Michael Rossy could be the next “Kurt.”
Michael, now in his 30’s has been involved with the camp since he was 8 years old. After high school, college and a job in corporate America, Michael says working for Rob each summer inspired him to go back to CSUN to study to become a teacher himself. He’s almost completed his teaching credential.
“Being here makes me realize how special an experience working with kids is,” Michael said and remembers catching his first wave. “I was twelve years old, and my counselor told me to ‘mirror’ him and catch whatever wave he did, so I did. I’ll never forget riding the face of the wave, looking down and seeing the clear water and bright green kelp for the first time.”
When asked how his grassroot business has stood the test of time, Rob hopes it is the “personal touch.”
In a day and age where technology and over-produced events seem to be the norm, it is nice to know there is still a place where kids can enjoy the simple pleasures of southern California living in the sun, sand and ocean waves.
“I love the kids, I love seeing everything that happens with them,” Rob said. “Every year, they become really good swimmers and ocean people.”
If you are interested in signing your child with someone who may be one of the nicest, and most experienced teachers in California, you are in luck. The next surf and water safety camp runs August 8 to 18. Kids ages 6-12 will boogie board, surf and learn to read the waves of the ocean. To register, call Rob at (310) 456-7731. You know the drill.