Adding to popular support for the Los Angeles County Lifeguards was its stature in athletic competitions. In races that replicate the work lifeguards do, such as the Run-Swim-Run race (consisting of 200 meter run, 400 meter swim, 200 meter run), the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Service has proven to be the most successful competitor of all American lifeguard services. Since the United States Lifesaving Association began recording results in 1970, the L.A. County Lifeguards have won the national title 30 out of the 34 years. Since the last national win by the California State Lifeguard Service in 1986, the Los Angeles County Lifeguard streak presently stands at 19 consecutive national titles (1987– 2004).
Lifeguard demonstrations and competitions were developed to showcase the lifeguard's surf knowledge and skill. The first night competitions under lights were held, adjacent to the Hermosa pier. These lifeguard relays became "The Taplin," named after Judge Irving Taplin, who donated a beautiful, three tiered, brass bell trophy to the winners. Agencies from up and down the coast would send their sixteen best watermen to "have-at-it!" Lifeguard services annually challenged one another to determine who was the “King of the Surf.” The teams to be reckoned with were Los Angeles City, led by Myron Cox, Los Angeles County, led by Rusty Williams, Santa Monica, led by George "Cap" Watkins, and Long Beach, led by Dutch Miller. Surf competitions not only demonstrated the lifeguards' skills, they also motivated lifeguards to develop and improve their skills. Ocean swims, paddleboard and dory races take place throughout the area.
In 1956, following an invitation from the Australian Surf Lifesaving Association, Los Angeles County Lifeguards organized and sent a team representing the United States to the first International Surf Life Saving Competition, held in conjunction with the Melbourne Olympics. This singular event is recognized as the most influential surf lifesaving carnival ever held. The international surf lifesaving community was introduced to the rescue can, lightweight paddleboards, fiberglass surfboards, relays and iron man competition, as well as to the overall capabilities of the modern, well trained, professional lifeguard. This international forum continues today, providing a constant exchange of information, equipment, and skills.