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Young war fighters returning from World War II were often rebellious when it came to conventional lifestyles. As a result, they invented a number of new sub-cultures. For example: surfing, outlaw bikers, beatniks and developing a new generation of bodybuilders.
The most obvious place that bodybuilders established themselves was Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, CA. The popularity of Muscle Beach led to decades of Bikini Beach movies with actors like Frankie Avalon.
Muscle Beach is the birthplace of the United States physical fitness boom, which started in 1934 with predominantly gymnastics activities on the south side of the Santa Monica Pier. Muscle Beach Venice is the contemporary title of the outdoor weightlifting platform constructed in Venice, California, a distinct neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, 18 years after Muscle Beach was established.
The current Muscle Beach was established in Venice, CA, in 1963. Starting in 2000, a promoter named Joe Wheatley took over organizing events at Muscle Beach and currently holds three competitions per year, on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. “My goal,” says Joe Wheatley, “has always been to continue the rich legacy of Muscle Beach and to have it remain a community celebration of sun, surf, sand and muscle contests.”
Muscle Beach dates back to the 1930s when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) installed exercise equipment immediately south of the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California. Popular gymnastic and acrobatic exhibitions were routinely held there on city-provided equipment. A platform on the beach with weight lifting equipment provided a workout area for such famous bodybuilders as Vic Tanny, Jack LaLanne, and Joe Gold.
In 1989, the City of Santa Monica officially rededicated the original Muscle Beach and today it serves gymnasts, acrobats and youth with an extensive gymnastics training area. Meanwhile, the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department has continued the primary barbell, weightlifting and bodybuilding aspects, and events of the original Muscle Beach fame at the Venice weight pen. In 1987, the City of Los Angeles officially dedicated “Muscle Beach Venice” with the added word of “Venice” in the title to distinguish it from the original “Muscle Beach” in Santa Monica.
The bodybuilding contests at Muscle Beach include competition for both men and women and a variety of categories that give the maximum number of individuals the chance to participate and show off their physiques in a fun and supportive environment.
“If you are super serious about developing your physique for competition,” says Joe Wheatley, “the Muscle Beach contests are perfect for the first time competitor. Over the years we’ve had many athletes begin their career at Muscle Beach who’ve gone on to get their IFBB Pro card after competing in the NPC. Unlike what can be an overwhelming experience for a first-time athlete competing at a NPC competition, Muscle Beach shows are designed to give you the opportunity to show off your physical development to friends, learn posing techniques, gain confidence and stage presence in a friendly, supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere.”
But as much as Joe Wheatley is aware and respectful of the legacy and traditions of Muscle Beach, he is also constantly looking for a way to improve and develop the entertainment value of the MB events. “Since taking over as the Promoter in 2000, I’ve worked very hard in bringing back the world renown interest in Muscle Beach as a tourist destination. After the addition of Men’s Physique, and Classic Physique and Wellness, I have created some new competition categories to make the whole experience more interesting and fun.”
Along these lines, and with an eye toward the historical nature of Muscle Beach, in 2016 Joe Wheatley introduced a Vintage Swimsuit category. This exercise in nostalgia features women wearing the kind of one-piece suits you’d see in the 1950s and, most commonly, a kind of body that likely would have been wearing them. “I was thinking about Muscle Beach of yesteryear and the kind of the swimsuit contests held back in the day. So, I reached out to Sarah Clark, Miss Muscle Beach of 1948, and asked her to help present the Vintage Swimsuit Overall award – creating one more link to the historic legacy of Muscle Beach.”
“The young women in the Vintage class are very creative and have a great time getting to design their swimsuits and show off to the audience,” says Wheatley. It’s been very well received, and we’ve gotten tons of television coverage of the category”.
With the success of the Vintage Swimsuit category, Wheatley decided to go one step further and create a category he calls Angel Bikini. “This category is bikini fitness with the addition of ‘shoulder harnessed’ wings”. One of the main reasons he added this class was due to the lack of interest in the Women’s Physique category. For the last three years there were never had more than two competitors in Women’s Physique. The first contest on Memorial Day 2023 with the addition of Angel Bikini was a huge success. It’s added great entertainment value and we can look forward to continuing the Vintage Swimsuit and Angel Bikini classes as permanent fixtures to the competitions.