Sharing a love for the art of boxing, two former lifeguards stay young
rolling with the punches.
Written by Jared Sayers | Photographed by Jeff Berting
Combine San Pedro, sun, salt, boxing gloves and a ferocity to compete,
win and have fun while doing it. What do you get? Mark Lozano and John
Matesich (aka Matty).
For context, Mark and Matty are childhood friends who grew up in San Pedro
from as early as 1941. Both still reside there to this day. Both were
ocean lifeguards stationed at Cabrillo Beach for upwards of 57 years—Mark
at one point a captain, and Matty one of the oldest—if not the oldest—lifeguard
in history, who retired at the ripe young age of 75.
So where does boxing come in for a couple of lifeguards? Mark was taught
by his father who was more of a fiery barroom scrapper than a well-trained
boxing athlete. It wasn’t ’til the war when Mark began to
learn the skill and technique to round out the edges of the hard-hitting
guerilla tactics of his father. It was then boxing became more thoughtful,
strategic and artful for Mark. But when he came back from the war there
was no one to box with, so his new love had to be put on the shelf.
Enter John “Matty” Matesich, Mark’s childhood friend
and fellow lifeguard at Cabrillo. For perspective, Matty has run more
than 40 marathons around the world, paddled Loch Ness, the English Channel,
the Catalina Channel, around Manhattan in New York and has summited mountains
with names like Kilimanjaro, Rainier and Whitney. He is an Ironman finisher,
a dory boat racer and has traveled to 90% of the world’s major destinations.
His rap sheet is longer than most, and his stories are better than most.
With a nudge from Mark, boxing became Matty’s newest curiosity at
age 61. After the first 30 minutes of sparring with Mark, Matty experienced
a workout that up to this point had eluded him. Ironman, paddling, mountaineering—none
of it could touch boxing. Completely gassed and trying to catch his breath,
he thought, “Where has this been my entire life?”
“Matty was my saving grace,” Mark says. “He not only
got me back into boxing after the Vietnam War, but he forced me into a
teaching role.” Until this point Mark had always been the student,
but now he had become the teacher and was willing to impart years of collective
wisdom to his best friend, Matty.
And so the duo would box every morning in the garage of their Cabrillo
Beach lifeguard headquarters—catching the attention and curiosity
of their fellow guards. Only a select few would get the subtle nudge from
Mark inviting them in on the fun. Mark and Matty went from sparring with
each other to sparring with other lifeguards to sparring with people of
all ages, races and creeds.
Fast-forward to present day. Mark and Matty have a community. It is very
underground, meeting at an undisclosed location and consisting of men,
women and children who all share a love for the art of boxing. There was
no grand plan or vision. It just kind of happened.
Despite its exclusive invitation-only nature, Mark and Matty have a list
of well over 200 people they have taught over the years. No money exchanged.
No limelight. No fanfare. When Mark is asked about monetizing his teaching
efforts, he just crinkles his forehead and says with a scowl, “How
could I feel good about charging people if I’m just there to play
anyway? It just doesn’t seem right.”
Play? Not a word you hear much anymore. For context, the Dutch cultural
historian Johan Huizinga frames “play” quite well: “Play
is a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’
life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing
the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no
material interest, and no profit can be gained by it.”
Mark and Matty refuse to let go of play. It is a fountain of youth for
both. Laughter is abundant, good stories are endless and the wine is awfully
tasty. They move like they are 30 and think like they are 20. What’s
their secret? Play. And for them it comes in the form of a pair of gloves,
a mouthguard and headgear so they can swing freely at one another—as
friends, as comrades and as true ambassadors to the sport of boxing.
So it should come as no surprise people are vying for their attention and
instruction. But what is the real demand here? Are people wanting to be
taught the art of boxing by Mark and Matty because they are just that
good? Of course they do. And yes, they are that good.
But I have another hunch that lies just below the surface. They also want
to be taught how to play again—to temporarily shelf the worries
and responsibilities of life and become immersed in something that lightens
the load, if just for a bit. Yes, it comes in the form of a sweaty, full-body,
fist-throwing workout, but it also involves community, camaraderie and
a willingness to leave the baggage at the door in the name of fun.
I wish I could tell you where to go to find more information, but there
is nowhere to go. There is no website. There is no Instagram account.
There is no number to call. But I can tell you if you have a love for
boxing and a passion for the zest of life, in time this will most likely