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Waves Keep Lifeguards Busy Third Straight Day

Times Staff Writer

Strong swells and high waves from distant Pacific storms kept lifeguards busy on Orange County beaches for the third straight day Wednesday, although the surf is expected to calm down today.

As high winds whipped sand and thrashed the surf, lifeguards rescued dozens of swimmers and body surfers from powerful rip currents and waves ranging from three to eight feet.

“Boy, it’s been really crazy today,” said Seal Beach Lifeguard Lt. Dan Dorsey. “A combination of factors are making it frantic for us.”

Waves lashed the Southern California coast especially hard on stretches of beach facing either south or southwest--in direct line with advancing swells. Along those stretches, red flags flew above lifeguard towers to warn swimmers and surfers of dangerous conditions.

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Elsewhere, smaller, choppier waves broke.

“It’s definitely a red-flag day,” said San Clemente Lifeguard Lt. John McMains. “We’ve been making rescues all day long.”

In addition to 38 rescues at San Clemente, about 125 were made at Newport Beach, nearly 60 at Seal Beach, 50 at Huntington Beach and 40 at Laguna Beach--all slightly more than usual for a brilliant summer weekday.

The numbers might have been greater had lifeguards not shouted precautions over loudspeakers to keep inexperienced swimmers away from stronger-than-usual swells, which hit Orange County a few times every summer. It was the second time this summer that such swells have added to wave heights.

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“It kind of makes swimming a bit more of an adventure,” said Harry Berger at Newport Beach, toweling himself off after a dip. “Everyone needs some excitement.”

The swells, caused by a storm last week off Australia and New Zealand, were expected to peak Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service.

Despite sunny skies, temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s combined with stiff westerly winds to keep many people from venturing into the water, saving lifeguards some work, lifeguards reported.

“Without the winds, we would have had to rescue two or three hundred people,” said Newport Beach Marine Safety Officer Gordon Reed.

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The higher the waves, the less likely people are to swim--so they are more likely to be caught in riptides that could pull them away from shore, said Lifeguard Brent Peters, on patrol in the lifeguard tower on Huntington Beach Municipal Pier.

The dangers, though, didn’t seem to affect thrill-seekers.

“Awesome,” said boogie boarder Jeff Mason, 16, after scrubbing his yellow-and-black board. “Today’s the day when the waves are just right.”

One boy, delighted by the breaking waves, tried to cajole a friend into going in the water at Newport Beach.

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“Come on,” Mike Tangley, 12, told friend Tana McCarthy, 11.

“You must have been in the sun too long,” Tana moaned, heading back to safer ground.

Though waves kept most swimmers on shore, the surf was good news for pro surfers who capitalized on the moment during a competition at San Clemente’s beach.

“These guys were in luck today,” said Lifeguard McMains.

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O.C. PRO SURF

San Clemente competition. Sports, Page 1


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