To the heat wave that drew masses to the coast, add a tropical swell that brought beefy waves and strong rip currents and it was a recipe for a busy beach weekend – especially for lifeguards.
Among the busiest were popular stretches of coast such as Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. In Newport Beach, rescues for the three days – Friday through Sunday – reached 260. The same end-of-summer weekend last year saw about 100 rescues, Lifeguard Chief Mike Halphide said.
Temperatures inland rose well into the 90s, driving people to seek relief from the heat, a trend expected to continue through this week.
“It was packed,” Halphide said. “Part of it too, it’s not just the number of people, but people stayed. There’s no reason to go home.”
Water temps spiked in recent days, hitting 78 degrees in Newport Beach. Just two weeks ago, the water felt a winter-like 57.9 degrees.
“It’s a lure to get them in the water,” he said. “That really is driving activity.”
But waves were bigger on Saturday, with lulls between sets that made the ocean deceivingly calm before larger waves suddenly showed.
“That intermittent nature of it allows people to go out and when the surf does come in, it really gets the rips,” Halphide said. “People are out bathing and hanging out in the water, and sets come in and they really aren’t expecting it.”
Classes for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District start this week, but it’s unclear whether that will impact the large number of beachgoers who have been showing up as summer eases to an end.
“We’re expecting to see a decrease in morning and increase in afternoon,” Halphide said.
“We’re supposed to stay in this tropical weather pattern,” he said. “We’re going to take it one day at a time.”
Laguna Beach Marine Safety Lt. JJ Carvin said his crew made 475 rescues from Friday through Sunday.
“It’s so hot everywhere. The beach really is the only game in town right now,” he said. “It’s so hot every day, they are staying at the beach until late in the day.”
One rescue happened late Sunday when a 16-year-old fell off a 30-foot tall bluff near Treasure Island and was transported to the hospital with multiple fractures.
And, lifeguards are still trying to figure out what happened to a 29-year-old man at Table Rock Beach in South Laguna, where Orange County Lifeguards responded after a call that a man was found face down in the water.
“We don’t really know exactly what happened,” Jason Young, OC Lifeguard chief, said.
The weekend was also busy for OC Lifeguards, who watch over county-operated beaches in South Laguna and Dana Point.
They tallied 175 rescues through the weekend, with 186 medical aids. The rocky areas were especially dangerous with a mid-day high tide pushing water up the beaches. The yellow flag was posted all weekend, warning beachgoers of rip currents.
“We were busy, we’ve been able to maintain full staffing on weekends, we had everything open,” Young said, comparing the crowds to a typical Fourth of July weekend.
In addition to rip current rescues, there were a lot of back injuries from a strong shore break, he said. Laguna’s steep sloping beaches make for especially dangerous conditions for beachgoers who can be pulled into the water even if they are sitting on dry land.
“The water comes up and drains into the dry areas of sand. The sand has hills and valleys. People like to stay in the low part, that’s where they get their feet wet,” Young said. “When we get a set wave, it can take you from dry sand to waist-deep water quickly. As soon as you’re pulled into the waves, it’s deep and you can’t touch.”
The “finger rips,” as they are called by lifeguards, can be especially dangerous for people who can not swim and think they are safe on dry sand, he said.
“I think people come to Laguna and think it’s calm, and it’s the No. 1 cause of our rescues, due to the steep beach,” he said.
Young said as summer comes to an end, many of the seasonal lifeguards are also heading back to school or other jobs.
“Our word of caution to the public would be: You may notice some towers are not open, so please swim in front of an open tower,” he said.
Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Greg Crow said it was the busiest weekend yet this summer, with “just enough swell to give us problems.” There were 349 rescues Saturday and Sunday, with 35 major medical aides.
“We were very crowded, we stayed on the beach until dark,” Crow said.
Huntington State Beach and nearby Bolsa Chica were not out-of-the-ordinary for a typical hot summer day, said State Parks Lifeguard Chief Jeff David.
Bolsa Chica had 42 rescues on Saturday and eight on Sunday, while Huntington State Beach had 91 on Saturday and 48 on Sunday. A typical busy summer weekend can generate more than 300 rescues, David said.
Likewise, Seal Beach had a mellow weekend for rescues, with only nine tallied for the weekend, with five boat rescues and 16 medical aids, said Seal Beach Lifeguard Chief Joe Bailey.
At the other end of the Orange County coast, San Clemente had a busy weekend with 158 rescues from Friday through Sunday. Crowds started earlier in the week, with about 60 rescues on Thursday, Aug. 20, leading into the weekend, San Clemente Marine Safety Chief Rod Marlott said.
Water temperature hit 80 on Sunday, hotter than the air temp at 77 degrees.
The warm trend and run of swells – expected to be 3- to 4-feet by the end of this week and into the weekend – will continue to keep lifeguards on their toes.
“Swim near a lifeguard, check with a lifeguard, use lots of sunscreen and stay hydrated,” Marlott said. “And learn rip current safety.”
Source: Orange County Register