June 24, 1996 12:00 PM

TO LOS ANGELES COUNTY LIFE-guard Craig Hummer and 10 of his colleagues, reading the Top Ten lifeguard pickup lines on David Letterman’s Late Show last November was a day at the beach. “If you can’t poke fun at yourself,” says Hummer, 31, “why bother?”

And no one did. Then the skit, aired again in April, and lifeguard chief Don Rohrer found it no laughing matter. When he learned at a lifeguard convention about the risqué lines his charges had uttered (Number 9: “Coast Guard regulations, Miss, I have to inspect you for sand mites”)—while wearing their official swimtrunks, no less—he thought they were kicking sand in the department’s face. Calling the appearances “inexcusable” behavior, Rohrer, who ended a 44-year lifeguard career on June 1, lambasted the participants for “setting back the reputation of lifeguards 50 years.” The other lifeguards got off with reprimands, but Hummer—who organized the participants—pulled a three-week suspension without pay.

“They made me the fall guy,” says Hummer, who lives in Venice Beach with wife Jennifer, 30, a script reader, and their 11-week-old daughter, Madison. “It became a case of, ‘Who can we blame?’ ” A 10-year veteran lifeguard—and the winner of 39 national lifeguard competitions—Hummer claims a supervisor asked him to work with the Letterman staff, which had secured the necessary approvals. He plans to file a grievance and says a lawsuit could follow.

This being Los Angeles, of course, there is another possible outcome. An aspiring actor, who has done hunk-time in ads and on TV shows, including Golden Girls and, yes, Baywatch, Hummer hopes to climb off the lifeguard tower for good and into a TV sports-caster’s chair. Meanwhile, he has three unpaid weeks to sit in his apartment and ponder events. “All of us are dumbfounded,” he says. “They left me out to dry.” Letterman, for his part, thinks former chief Rohrer is all wet. “Why don’t you now run out into the surf,” he said on the show last week, “and start swimming as far as you can into the sunset.”

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