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200 Bodybuilders To Compete At Muscle Beach July 4th

200 Bodybuilders To Compete At Muscle Beach July 4th

Photos by Ron Avidan, Mr. & Ms. Muscle Beach 2014

Muscle Beach Venice—where tanned and beefed gym junkies work out en plein air—is a spectacle for onlookers any day of the week, but come July 4, it’s a pure, unadulterated show.

That’s when the buffest of the buff gather for the annual Mr. and Ms. Muscle Beach contest. New York may have Joey Chestnut stuffing his face with hot dogs, but it’s the “Coney Island of the Pacific” where the true Independence Day celebration of extreme endurance and hot buns goes down.

Bodybuilder Joe Wheatley, who runs and promotes the event, recommends showing up early (registration starts at 7 a.m.), as by 10 a.m., there’s usually about 2,000 people in the grandstand area for pre-judging. The competitions start about 1 p.m. with a color guard presentation from the United States Air Force, the singing of the U.S. National Anthem, and an induction into the Muscle Beach Venice Bodybuilding Hall of Fame.

This year the honor goes to Danny “The Giant Killer” Padilla, who rose to bodybuilding fame in the ‘70s. Gold’s Gym in Venice will also be presented with a certificate to commemorate its 50th year in the business.

Mr. and Ms. Muscle Beach 2015

The contestants span the spectrum of men and women, young and old, amateurs and professionals. They’re competing for top honors in categories such as bodybuilding, figure, bikini, men’s physique, and women’s physique. The crowd is a true Venice mix with die-hard muscle men and women next to supportive families and curious onlookers from the Boardwalk.

One competitor to watch out for is Billy Robinson who has been participating since 1997 when he won his first medal. This year, he’s planning on dominating in the Grand Masters (50 and above) category. 

“I’m from L.A., born and raised, so I used to go down [to Muscle Beach] way before, when it was just a pit,” he says. “I was just fascinated when I would go down and see these old guys in there.” The sort of people he’d see weren’t always famous bodybuilders, but they were ‘Muscle Beach famous,’ he says. “I would peer over the fence and say, ‘One of these days I’m gonna get into this pit.’”

And he did get into the sport, first as a trainer, and then, after enough people asked him “do you compete?” he got into competitive bodybuilding, too. Back then, he says, there were no YouTube videos or online guides. “You went into a gym and you became a gym rat.”

He learned by trial and error and asking around. “I’d go down to Venice, and there’d be a thousand different stories, you’d call it gym science. No one really told you how it was done. All I knew was, ‘Don’t eat any carbs. Eat some tuna and broccoli.’ So for literally eight weeks I ate tuna and broccoli. You can imagine. And I showed up to my first show and actually I won my weight class. And that was the start of the whole bug.”

Come July 4, there will be as many as 200 aspiring bodybuilders climbing the stage to strut their stuff and impress the judges who are all former competitors. When the medallions and trophies are handed out, Robinson always thinks back to something the late Bill Howard, who staged the Muscle Beach competitions for decades, said as he gave out medals. Robinson remembers Howard’s words this way: “No matter how many shows you do, this will be the only show that ever counts because this is Muscle Beach, and this is where it all started.”

Muscle Beach Venice // Venice Recreation Center, 1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, 90291 // FREE, Open to the public.

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