Lifeguards ramp up for Labor Day crowds as huge swells hit California

With the effects of Hurricane Marie expected to linger through the Labor Day weekend, lifeguard officials say they plan to maintain increased staffing in preparation for a fresh onslaught of beachgoers.

Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Rick Flores said 435,000 people were on L.A. County's 72 miles of beaches over the last two days as huge swells produced dangerously rough surf and rip currents.


The combination of a rush of surfers and bodyboarders looking to take advantage of 10- to 20-foot waves and thousands of spectators lining the shoreline has kept lifeguards busy.

Los Angeles County lifeguards reported performing 115 ocean rescues on Tuesday and another 177 on Wednesday -- the peak day of swelling caused by Hurricane Marie, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Los Angeles County Coroner's Lt. David Smith said the surfer who died near Malibu Pier on Tuesday had not been identified as of Thursday afternoon.

The Southland’s massive swells were generated when Hurricane Marie was at its peak on Sunday, said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

It will take a while for the surf to subside as the storm winds down, he said, but the waves were already getting smaller Thursday.

The tropical storm remains more than 800 miles southwest of Los Angeles over the eastern Pacific Ocean, and was continuing to weaken.

For example, the highest surf reported Wednesday at Point Mugu -- where a historic lifeguard training building was destroyed -- was 12 to 15 feet on average, with the largest waves measuring as high as 20 feet. On Thursday, the maximum reported wave height at Point Mugu was closer to 15 feet.

Waves at Cabrillo Beach Thursday morning were about half the size they were 18 hours earlier, Sirard said.

"From now through the end of the day Friday we're expecting swells to decrease," he added.

Still, people entering the water will need to remain extra cautious through the week, as even smaller waves will generate strong rip currents, Sirard said.

Times staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

For Westside news as it happens, follow the reporter on Twitter: @MattStevensLAT