Lifeguard Lineage in La Jolla: Kelsie Gleason, a second-generation rescuer

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Lifeguarding came to Kelsie Gleason, like many other lifeguards, as a natural step up from a life lived by the ocean. But, in her case, rescuing people is a family business.

“My dad has four brothers, and they were all City of San Diego beach lifeguards,” said the 24 year old, adding that one of her cousins is currently a sergeant in the Lifeguard Service.

Gleason has been with the Lifeguards for five years. Her appointments have been in La Jolla, and this year she was assigned to Black’s Beach as a seasonal guard. On Friday, July 22 this reporter accompanied her on patrol to learn more about her day and duties.

Black’s, unlike other beaches, doesn’t feature towers on the sand. Instead, there are two ocean-watching sites (Pinecone and Perch by their nicknames) and on-the-ground personnel ready to act. A shift task is to patrol the length of the beach, giving people advice, informing beach-goers of local and state rules, and occasionally making safety announcements.

In the first five minutes of the patrol, Gleason encouraged a group sun-tanning under the bluffs to move further north because of cliff collapses, made a safety announcement for swimmers to swim away from a rip current, and informed a naked beach-goer that south of the cone line dividing local and state beaches, clothing is not “optional.”

Is it awkward to be lifeguard at a clothing-optional beach?

“No, they are just doing their thing. I don’t think they have any weird intentions for the most part, obviously some people do, but this is their thing that they do, they’re a little bit hippie, they are from an older generation for the most part, and that is OK.”

What is the rescue you remember most?

“The ones that stick out to me are the little ones; for example, a kid whose fin broke up during a bigger surf at The Shores. He couldn’t make it back in, he was just a cool little kid to help bring in, he wasn’t a good swimmer by any means, but he had little fins on, so he was making his way, but he just got super tired. By the time we got to him, he was clinging on top of the rescue buoys.

“I also remember an older guy, we didn’t speak any words to each other, he didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Mandarin, and he just like hopped on the board, I paddled him in, we got in, he rolled off the board, and just like threw his hands up in the air, he was so excited he got to the sand. He said, ‘Yes!’ and then left. I was like, ‘Alright, here we are.’ ”

Here at Black’s, the lifeguard labor is harder because of the lack of towers. How do you handle that?

“It gets stressful, especially this year because we have had a lack of beach. All the sand got taken out through the El Niño year, so it’s been a challenge. We had the jet sky in the water, handling all the three miles of beach, and when you are up watching the water, that’s definitely something that plays through your mind, maybe to just start things early, and realize that it takes time for the truck to drive from one end of the beach to the other.”

What’s the most dangerous thing in the ocean here?

“The rip currents. Especially on this beach, because it’s got a lot more water moving, a lot of area for the water to move, and it changes throughout the day. Like at any beach with the incoming outgoing tide, the rip currents will pull differently, pull stronger, pull weaker, all of that, but I think here they just flash up randomly and everywhere.”

What do you like about lifeguarding?

“I like interacting with people all the time ... all the fun little tidbits of knowledge I can give ... and showing up to work every day and not really knowing what to expect — keeps you on your toes. It’s not a regular 9 to 5 job where you show up and sit in a cubicle and do the same thing day in and day out. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Got a safety tip for beach-goers?

“Stay within your means, and if you are sure about your abilities, talk to a lifeguard. Because we are all here and willing to talk to people. Everyone is, for the most part, very approachable and kind to the public.”

What are your favorite beaches in La Jolla?

“I like either Scripps or WindanSea.”


ON THE WEB: To read about other La Jolla lifeguards in this La Jolla Light series, search for “Know Your Lifeguards” at lajollalight.com or visit bit.ly/knowyourlifeguards

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