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EDITORIAL:City lifeguards stretched thin

Last week’s unusually huge wave swell and the unusually large number of people enjoying warm and sunny “beach weather” in April serve as a reminder that Laguna Beach has become a year-round resort — with all the positives and negatives of that designation.

Red flag warnings were out for three days straight, telling swimmers and surfers “in the know” that only experts should attempt to brave the waves.

But with the large number of visitors, spring break revelers, and many young children cavorting within yards of massive waves, it’s evident that many were unaware of the warning — or of the dangers of such enormous surf, as beautiful as it is.

The city’s lifeguards were stretched very thin in trying to make sure that swimmers, boogie-boarders and not-so-expert surfers were kept out of riptides and away from areas where they could be dashed against the many rocks that dot the local shoreline.

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It was a recipe for disaster, but, despite some hair-raising moments, everything went well.

The lifeguards, under Marine Safety Chief Mark Klosterman, are to be commended for keeping up with a huge task.

Credit also goes to local surfing experts, who thought nothing of lending a hand when swimmers were in trouble.

It’s not easy to rescue a panicky swimmer from the grip of a riptide and bring them in through 12-foot pounding surf, nor is it something to be undertaken lightly.

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Our own surfing columnist, James Pribram, executed more than one heroic rescue in the absence of a trained lifeguard.

We’re very proud of his bravery, and also glad that nothing untoward happened to him as he sought to save others.

It’s wonderful that Laguna has so many excellent swimmers and surfers with the ability to step — or swim — in when a lifeguard’s services are needed in what could turn into a life-or-death situation.

This points up the crying need, however, for more year-round lifeguards on the city’s beaches.

Nearly 100 part-time seasonal guards are hired during the summer, but the rest of the year the city survives with a skeleton crew of just eight full-time lifeguards to guard a seven-mile coastline with many coves and hard-to-reach beaches.

Klosterman has been lobbying for more year-round personnel for years, and the City Council has responded by adding one or two more incrementally over the past couple of years.

Clearly, more guards are essential to keep the beaches safe and the visitors’ experience a positive one here.

Or, perhaps a volunteer lifeguard force could be organized, using the proven abilities of locals, who could be brought in under extraordinary circumstances such as happened last week.

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It’s something to think about.


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