The bronze bust of George Douglas Freeth Jr. was stolen from the Redondo Beach Pier. Who was Freeth?

He was a Hawaiian who introduced surfing and water polo to Southern California and was the region's first official lifeguard.

Freeth came to California in 1907, at age 23, to promote Hawaiian tourism. Beachgoers were awed by the man riding the waves just off Venice on a 200-pound, 8-foot wood surfboard. Billed as "the man who walked on water," Freeth was the first person to hang 10 -- walk the nose of the surfboard.

He also taught swimming and diving and trained young swimmers to become lifeguards, showing them how to use rip currents to speed them out to victims. The technique is still used today.

When a fishing boat began sinking in heavy surf near the Venice Pier in 1908, Freeth swam out and hauled seven fishermen to shore, then kept the remaining four afloat until a lifeboat could rescue them.

Two years later, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor for bravery, for his lifesaving techniques, which were being adopted nationwide.

And remember "Baywatch"? Freeth invented the original version of those red, torpedo-shaped rescue buoys.

By the time he died in the 1919 influenza pandemic, Freeth had a permanent place in California culture.,0,974982.story,974982.story