Laguna Beach lifeguards were swamped with rescues Labor Day weekend after the heat, waves and holiday combined to create what Marine Safety Chief Mark Klosterman said was an extremely dangerous position for the department.
Lifeguards made 515 rescues over the three-day weekend, 372 of which were done on Monday alone. More than 10,300 preventive contacts were made with the beaches thronged with an estimated 150,000 beachgoers.
The normal risk of six-to-eight foot waves and strong riptides was compounded by a heat wave that swept across Southern California. The heat drew even larger crowds to the already-busy Labor Day Weekend.
“That’s the perfect storm for us,” Klosterman said
Lifeguards at the busier beaches averaged about 50 saves per rescuer, Klosterman said. Beachgoers were treated for injuries including broken bones, dislocations and spinal cord injuries.
At one point, there were three dislocated shoulders treated in half an hour at Crescent Bay.
The water was yellow-flagged for the weekend, advising only experienced surfers and swimmers to enter the water. Klosterman said the big waves and tides were caused by a swell originating in the Southern Hemisphere.
The swell was dangerous not only because of the six-foot-high waves, but also because its danger was deceiving. Klosterman said the lull between sets of waves was longer than usual, which enticed unknowing people into the seemingly calm Pacific Ocean.
When waves began hitting again, some couldn’t handle the size.
“It’s just like going up skiing and doing a black diamond. You’d better know your skill level,” Klosterman said.
One of the biggest dangers is actually the human element. People who don’t heed warnings or even just don’t know the dangers of the surf zone are at risk.
“They think that because they’re able to swim they’re good to go,” Klosterman said. “We don’t require them to pass a test before they enter the water.”
A man suffered spinal cord injuries this weekend as lifeguards were on their way to warn him about the severity of the waves.
“He’s not in the ocean more than several seconds before he’s been injured,” Klosterman said.
To avoid injuries and to protect the marine environment, Klosterman advises beachgoers to be proactive, and to call lifeguards first for information about water conditions, not just for surf but also for scuba diving.
Lifeguards are also always willing to give advice or guidance on the beach, Klosterman said.
Laguna’s lifeguards are encouraged to get out of their towers and educate people on the dangers of the surf zone. Knowledge is power, so education is paramount to saving lives, Klosterman said.
“We’re trying to get out there and teach the people and be preventative,” Klosterman said. “Our driver, our key to success is preventative contacts.”
With summer winding down and students hanging up their surfboards in exchange for books, the Marine Safety Department is shifting out of the summer bustle.
The full 30-station deployment is reduced by half for September.
That skeleton crew will be whittled down until the beaches are protected only by patrol units.
But the reduced numbers in the towers don’t mean Marine Safety is in hibernation for the winter.
Officers conduct 90% of their training between November and March, Klosterman says.
For beach weather and water conditions, call (949) 494-6573.