New Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table president Rich Hanna has been awarded the Presidio Sports Sports Figure of the Month for October, 2011 for his stewardship of and commitment to the community’s expansive sports activities and programs.
On the heels of again leading Semana Nautica – SB’s ever-growing, premier summer beach festival and athletic competitions over a two-week period, Hanna just dove headfirst into his new two-year SBART leadership post.
It follows five years of serving on the SBART Board and pumping new life into the High-5 annual golf tournament – the non-profit organization’s only real fundraiser with all proceeds allocated evenly with all five area public high schools.
All this on top of leading the city’s Recreational Aquatics and Waterfront programs.
Hanna is a recent winner of SBART’s coveted R.F. McFarland Award, given annually to the person or organization that best exemplifies community leadership in the area of sports and athletics.
Asked him how he originally got involved here and he quips:
“Well, it’s either a blessing or a curse to know Joe Howell but he got me started.”
And then on a serious note …
“Joe is my mentor and friend and it’s easy to align myself with SBART in giving back to this generation of kids and the next.”
He says that he feels fortunate to have landed so well since arriving in the US back in 1993.
Hanna was born in Thailand and grew up ‘on the water’ in Wellington, New Zealand. His dad was a U.S. Navy Seabee. His mom was a homemaker and younger sister, Holly, stayed close – she’s now a banker there.
“I was almost born in Africa but my dad’s embassy assignment changed at the last minute,” he says.
Wellington is a huge sailing community and a non-fatal sailing accident on his first time out may have changed the course of his life forever …
“I got caught up in the rigging and it was the closest I’ve come to dying,” he says with a smile.
Instead, he tried windsurfing (no rigging), hoops, and rugby, of course. And he loved swimming and “soon got tired at looking at the bottom of the pool.”
Enter: surf life saving and its fun ‘club feel’ – close knit kids and their families.
He was immediately hooked!
After high school, he attended the Central Institute of Technology to pursue his dreams of working in the sports and fitness industry.
With his degree in Sports and Exercise Science, he concentrated on surf life saving for two full years (‘91 & ‘92).
NZ’s treacherous surf and ocean currents afforded extensive training and the ultimate experience – it all paid off the following year when he wanted to work in California.
Of the 24 surf lifeguard positions of which he applied here in the USA, he netted 16 interviews.
“I didn’t know anyone in California,” he says that underscored his sense of adventure. He figured he would only stay in the States for two years.
And when San Diego slipped their lifeguard test trials a month, he altered his plans to come here in Santa Barbara instead — arriving in the dark of night after travelling up the coast by Greyhound bus after jetting into LA earlier in the day.
At his SB interview and test trials– no surprise that he was offered a lifesaving job on the spot but decided to check out Santa Cruz before committing.
“The water was freezing there!” he claims.
It made for an easy decision to return to SB where he has been ever since – save for an eight-month ‘roadie gig’ on the Jose Cuervo beach volleyball tour.
“In a fun way, it allowed me to see much of the United States – there were 20 tour spots that took us into 39 States,” he added.
He returned to SB and jumped back into the pool, one could say – but it was a little tough after being away from the area.
He accepted a supervisory position that he shared with Todd Capps (U.S. Congressional Representatives son is ‘a great guy”, according to Hanna) for three years.
In 1998 he was offered the job as Los Banos Pool Supervisor to fill a hole while they looked for someone else.
It led to a full-time position with increased responsibility and benefits.
In his current post, Hanna oversees all aquatics sports and tennis for the City including four pools (Los Banos, Ortega Park, Oak Park, West Beach along with all city Tennis facilities and 4.2 miles of primo beach coastline from The Douglas Family Preserve (Hendry’s Beach) to the Clark Estate on East Beach’s outer boundary.
Responsibilities also include a summer staff of 100 and the award-winning Junior Lifeguard Program with 300 summer campers – a program that he inherited.
For several years, he and 15 other California lifeguards would travel to Ecuador on their own expense to assist local lifeguards there during the four days of world-famous Carnival .
It was both exhausting and exhilarating and pushed their surf lifesaving abilities to the max.
It wasn’t unusual for them to make a 100 rescues everyday as each involved, at least, a quarter-mile of swimming due to the tricky riptides that would pull struggling swimmers far out to sea.
“It’s insane!” added fellow California lifeguard Mark Erickson who has made the trip with Hanna.
As one might expect, Hanna loves the outdoors and enjoys hiking, biking, and of course, swimming.
One of his favorite exercises is the noon swim and run from his East Beach office – his own combination of buoy swims and running around the life guard towers all the way down the Pier and back.
He and wife Sarah are soon celebrating their-five year anniversary. Their family includes son Charles age 21, daughter Kelly, 18 and Roxy, their chocolate lab.
Hanna considers himself quite fortunate to have a wonderful family and great staff – Jeff Smith, Cathy Carpenter, Amber Workman, Engin Tekince and anchored by Freda Markowitz.
And about his commitment to the local sports scenes, perhaps Mentor Howell says it best:
“He may be a hacker at golf but his leadership for City Parks and Rec and in the community, is truly amazing.”