— KNOW YOUR LIFEGUARDS:
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a summer series about the men and women who keep us safe in the ocean off the shores of La Jolla.
Becoming a lifeguard was a natural evolution for San Diego native Rodger Eales. “I was looking for career paths that would allow me to use my skills in the ocean,” he said. The 33-year-old joined the service a decade ago as a seasonal lifeguard, and in January he was assigned as a permanent lifeguard for the La Jolla Cove station.
Eales said he’s been surfing since age 10, but that’s only one of the things he loves about the ocean, where he spends almost more time than he does on land. His father was an accomplished sailor who competed at the Olympics, which led Eales to his early introduction to the ocean.
“I took a liking to surfing when I was 10 years old and I got my first surfboard. I began to gain a lot of knowledge and experience in the ocean, and I started to become very comfortable there,” Eales said. He pursued surfing on a competitive level and won the collegiate men’s division of the 2006 National Scholastic Surf Association championship for amateurs.
Among his hobbies Eales lists spearfishing, surfing, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, sailing and tubing. “I love being in the water,” he confessed.
His marriage to Pennsylvania native Kelly Magestic Eales has never become an obstacle to his yearnings for the sea. To the contrary, he said, “She understands the passion I have for not only just the ocean but some of my activities in the ocean, and to be fair, those endeavors are very time-consuming … it takes a certain person to be able to support me in those pursuits. She’s always there, she attends events sometimes, she’ll watch, and when it came to lifeguarding, it was a no brainer. Kelly helped me every step of the way by pushing me and inspiring me in the classes, my credentials, and to make myself better-rounded as a lifeguard with dive classes.”
As a child, Eales participated in the San Diego Junior Lifeguard program. When he became an adult and was deciding what to do in life he said, “Lifeguarding seemed like a perfect fit. I’m a people person, I like to help people. I attended college and got a teaching credential, so the other career path that I was looking at involved helping others. I tried out for the lifeguard service and I was hired as a seasonal and then just continued to pursue the career.”
What’s it like to save lives?
“That’s part of the draw, knowing I’m putting myself in danger to rescue someone else who is in danger. Being born and raised in San Diego, and having such an involved background with the ocean, is almost like a calling for me to help people recreate safely in the ocean. Having that baseline knowledge allows me to recognize when people are in trouble, maybe sooner than they do! A lot of times we can get to them before it becomes a major problem, and that’s a good feeling ... a little bit of an adrenaline rush is needed to rescue someone in a dangerous situation.”
What does it mean for you to be comfortable in the ocean?
“For me, being comfortable in the ocean is really experiencing the ocean in all the different moods it has. When it’s really rough and stormy, when it’s calm and beautiful, when the surf is giant, in currents … There’s a lot of hydraulics, especially here in La Jolla. So to be adaptable and just understand that the ocean demands the ultimate respect makes you feel more comfortable.”
When was the last time that you were scared in the ocean?
“The last 10 years I’ve gotten into big wave surfing, and this past winter I was at Mavericks and waves were anywhere from 30 to 50 feet on the face. I was with a friend of mine who’s not as experienced, so I felt responsible for him. The boards got blown off, we were punching through white wash. It was one of those moments when I was uneasy and the rest of that day, surfing, I was alert, at times scared.”
Describe a day on your job.
“We show up at 8 a.m. and start observing the water, watching the people. If there’s a significant south swell, like today, we are paying attention to the boulder field and making sure people stay out of those rocky areas. We inspect our travel pack to make sure we’re ready for any medical emergencies. We inspect our truck to make sure it’s outfitted and the equipment is ready for rescues, and then we interact with the public — from anything like giving them directions to Torrey Pines Glider Port; advice on good places to eat to effective water rescues; treating minor medical aids, like scratches from the rocks; and now and again, we try to keep people away from touching the sea lions.”
How do you handle sea lions at the Cove?
“Our No. 1 priority is always the water and the people that are swimming; the Cove in the summer time is so busy that takes up 95 percent of our focus and concentration. With that being said, we are always taking public safety as a whole into consideration, and if that means that we have to make a public announcement to keep people away from sea lions, that’s pretty much what we will do. We will let them know there are rules and regulations surrounding the animals and they need to keep a safe distance.”
What do you like the most about your job?
“I’d say just seeing the people’s appreciation after you’ve either given them a band aid, treated them in a serious medical aid, rescued them from a hazardous ocean, given directions to a great place to eat, and knowing that I’m participating for something that’s a greater good.”
Got a safety tip for beach-goers?
“The No. 1 thing is to check in with a lifeguard at the beach and get the conditions for the day. Respect the ocean and know that at anytime this ocean is extremely powerful. Know your limits.”
What are your favorite beaches in La Jolla?
“Black’s Beach is one of my favorites because of the unique canyon structure, how the waves break there and the beautiful cliff bluffs. Where I get to work every day, at La Jolla Cove, is great, due to the elaborate marine life. There’s all sorts of fish, birds, and the water is beautiful. And then it’s WindanSea, which has a similar vibe to The Cove, and a pretty renowned wave break.”