Muscle Beach, Santa Monica, California, was the birthplace of the worldwide fitness revolution. Just a few names of those who made their names there: From the prewar group there were Jack LaLanne and Joe Gold; in the ’50s came Armand Tanny, Zabo Koszewski, Russ Warner, Pudgy Stockton and Steve Reeves; in the ’60s and ’70s came Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu, among other bodybuilding stars.
Muscle Beach has always been as much a dream as a place. The magnetism of sun, sand and athletic men and women has drawn thousands to Southern California for generations—including me. I’ve always been drawn to the water, first as a teenager to the shores of Lake Michigan and later through my ongoing love affair with the Pacific Ocean. That all came flooding back to me on the Fourth of July, as I sat next to Zabo at Muscle Beach, Venice, for one of Joe Wheatley’s contests.
At 88 Zabo is one of the last links to the golden era. He lives only a few blocks from the Venice workout area, and as he told me, he loves it as much as he did in 1950, when he made his way from Pennsylvania to the iconic beach. As he said, no one had any money then, but they made up for it with a shared passion and camaraderie. Zabo was with me not just to enjoy the picture-perfect day but also to receive an award—his name was added to the Muscle Beach Walk of Fame.
My relationship with Muscle Beach goes back more than 40 years, to when I was a competitor. That’s why I support Wheatley’s request that IRON MAN be a sponsor of the Muscle Beach events and awards ceremonies. It’s still a special place, and the programs Joe produces there underline that fact.
The contests and awards that took place on July 4 recognized both the foundation of our sport—Zabo—and the enduring appeal of bodybuilding. If you have a chance to attend one of the Muscle Beach events, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it’s exciting not only to watch bodybuilders from teens to 70-year-olds show why what we do is so special but also to experience the love and appreciation the crowd lavishes on the dedicated athletes. It’s bodybuilding in its most elemental expression: sun, sand and joy.
I enjoy the events because they refresh my memory. I get to talk with people like Zabo, who inspire my own training. Everyone is having a good time, the stakes are personal, and the exhilaration is experienced by everyone who attends. That’s what bodybuilding is all about.
For photos from two Muscle Beach events, see pages 236 and 237 of the Oct ’08 issue of Iron Man.