By Dave Schwab
Want to see La Jolla up close and personal?
One way is on a Segway.
For about a year, Albert Galura and James Russell have been running a Segway tour business called We Love Tourists at 908 Pearl St. The company offers two-hour excursions in the Jewel taking in surrounding neighborhoods and the beachfront on the increasingly popular Segway PT (personal transport) -- a two-wheeled, battery-powered, self-balancing electric vehicle people ride upright.
On April 22, Russell had a typical tour group, the Fernando family, a mom and dad and their son and daughter vacationing from New Jersey, on his 8:30 a.m. tour.
“I give three or four tours a day,” said Russell, noting business picks up as summer draws near. "We’ve had a few locals, people living on my route, but mostly it's people from all over San Diego — and the world.”
Russell said Segways were invented by Dean Kamen of New Hampshire, who was actually trying to build a wheelchair that went up stairs when he came up with the idea.
Since then the invention has taken off — literally.
“It’s like riding a giant joy stick,” joked Russell, demonstrating how to operate a Segway, which is done by body posture leaning forward or back. “If you need to stop fast, pull back the handlebars."
Segways, which go to 12 mph, stop three times faster than a bicycle, he added.
Awkward at first, operating a Segway is surprisingly easy, quickly becoming familiar and fun.
“Don’t bang into any curbs; lean forward nice and easy,” implores Russell as he leads his five-person tour group single-file out of his shop heading toward Fay Avenue and La Jolla High School’s stadium and outdoor pool.
“(Actress) Raquel Welsh is probably the most famous alumni from here,” Russell noted as the tour group observes first-hand residents, students and businessowners in their day-to-day routines heading through WindanSea toward the beach cruising past quaint single-family homes.
Segwayers are regarded by most passersby as a curiosity. Under California law, Segway riders are considered pedestrians, said Russell, noting, in La Jolla most sidewalks are wide enough for Segways and people to pass side by side. He said problems between Segwayers and pedestrians are infrequent, but do happen on occasion.
“There are people who say, ‘This is a sidewalk, you’re not supposed to be on it,’ he said. “I try to explain … but some people have their minds made up without actually having any knowledge of the machines or what they do.”
At the Children’s Pool, Russell pulls the group over where they lean their vehicles against a fence before going down to the pool’s crescent-shaped walkway.
“This is an ongoing source of shenanigans,” Russell tells the group. “People fighting to close the beach for seals. And people fighting to keep it open for people … It just goes on and on.”
It’s presently the seal’s pupping season, Russell points out, adding he was an unanticipated witness to a live seal birth. “There’s nothing beautiful about the miracle of life, especially when you incorporate sand and sea gulls and what not,” he said.
“Watch out for children and small dogs, although they should be on leashes,” cautions Russell as the group heads out across the lawn at La Jolla Cove.
After taking in the Cove and the growing sea lion colony there, the group heads back through town going past the La Jolla Rec Center and The Bishop’s School, before returning to the Russell's storefront.
All four Fernandos were impressed by the tour.
“It was a lot of fun, the best tour in La Jolla,” said mom Catherine Fernando.
“I thought he (Russell) had good jokes,” said dad Thomas Fernando.
“I thought it would be a lot harder,” said daughter Jeny Fernando.
Russell just smiled, preparing to go out on his next tour.