I have been a part of Muscle Beach Venice since competing there in the mid ’60s. Much has changed in the bodybuilding scene, just as Venice has evolved from a beat generation and hippy backwater to the funky tourist attraction it is today. In the ’60s, 15 contestants at a muscle competition would have been considered a healthy turnout, with maybe a hundred people watching the event. The contests back then were a lot of fun to be part of. They were what the “dream of bodybuilding” was meant to be.
Working out in the perpetual sunshine of California, literally on the beach and surrounded by people who shared your joy—what could be better for anyone enraptured by the barbell? Venice Beach was a part of my dream and I think the dream of every barbell enthusiast who ever worked out in an unheated garage “back East.”
Muscle Beach Venice has experienced a resurgence, and it is the result of several factors. Nobody has been more central to its growth and what makes it special than Joe Wheatley, the promoter of bodybuilding at Muscle Beach Venice, who has brought his vision and energy to the shows. There are now three contests each summer—on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day—each one attracting 150-plus contestants. And the mood is the mood of Venice—free-wheeling fun! The crowd bubbles with the energy of a sunny day and good times.
It is bodybuilding as I remember it: The contestants enjoying the simple act of competing, the standing-room-only crowd applauding all for their efforts, and the camaraderie, especially among the contestants. As Lou Ferrigno said to me when he was about to receive his Hall of Fame award, “This is the bodybuilding we all loved; the sport was fun to be a part of!”
Amateur sport is all about the personal feeling of accomplishment. Win or lose, Muscle Beach delivers the experience. Everyone who steps on the Muscle Beach stage gets to become a part of history, a history that stretches back into the ’30s and the legendary Jack LaLanne. The history is celebrated at each event with special awards for inductees into the Muscle Beach Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement. No other series of events has this history or its appreciation for the roots of bodybuilding and fitness and the people who were a part of it. IRON MAN magazine has been a sponsor and supporter of these awards, which we see as our part in creating and supporting bodybuilding history and those who made it.
Separate from the contests, I host a breakfast in Venice before the events to honor the award recipient. I call it the Muscle Beach Breakfast Club, and while the group varies in size from 15 to 25, its purpose is to enjoy that camaraderie of a shared history and experience. I cherish every moment. IM
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