Heavy Hitters | Torrance Memorial

Published on August 03, 2021

Heavy Hitters

Sharing a love for the art of boxing, two former lifeguards stay young rolling with the punches.

boxers

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.

boxingSo 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.”

Pause.

lifeguard groupPlay? 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.

skiiersSo 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 find you.