Know Your Lifeguards: La Jolla Light series spotlights La Jolla’s lifeguards
— KNOW YOUR LIFEGUARDS:
When La Jolla native Daniel Orloff was in the third grade at La Jolla Elementary School, he wrote in a journal that when he grew up he wanted to be a lawyer and a lifeguard.
“It sounds kind of funny because they are not very similar, but my stepdad was a lifeguard and my dad was a lawyer. Fast forward 20 years, and I am now a lifeguard and a lawyer — as long as I pass my ethics exam next week,” he said.
Orloff went to UC Berkeley for his undergraduate studies and earned a law degree from the University of San Diego in May 2015. For the past seven summers, he’s also been a seasonal lifeguard at La Jolla beaches.
Like many other lifeguards, Orloff is a surfer. He considers himself lucky to be a lifeguard at the same beach where he learned how to swim and surf. “I grew up coming to this beach,” he explained, “and when I was little, my mom and dad would drive me down on their bikes and I’d jump in the shore break and play around.”
Among his tattoos he counts his dogs, the initials of family members and the Cat in the Hat. “I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss,” Orloff confessed.
What activites do you like doing in the ocean besides surfing?
“I like to swim, spearfish and I also really enjoy bodysurfing — especially during the winter time. Sometimes the surfing crowds get really heavy, and if I want a break from that I’ll go find the pocket beach or a random reef and bodysurf it. It kind of changes things up and it’s really exciting.”
How do you handle the surf at WindanSea being one of the highest in the county?
“Most of the surfers are very experienced, but sometimes people don’t know, they’ll see surfers out, and it will be their first or second time surfing and they will paddle out and will instantly be in a dangerous situation. Usually it’s easy to pick out, but sometimes even an experienced surfer needs your help. It’s humbling, I’ve needed help, I’ve been rescued before, too, by a former water polo teammate, so I know that when it comes to the ocean, you have to check your ego at the door and it’s a humbling place sometimes.”
What rescues stick out the most for you?
“Last summer we had one where a kid got sucked out in a really strong rip current and he didn’t have much swimming experience, and he was going underwater, and I, along with other lifeguards, were able to grab him and put him on the jet ski and save him before he drowned. That was a really intense experience. When we got to the beach, he and I were equally as shaken up. I felt my heart pumping and my hands were shaking. I was so nervous that he wasn’t going to make it. We were both equally ecstatic once we got back on the beach.”
What are your favorite things about La Jolla?
“My favorite things about La Jolla are the beautiful beaches; the terrain is very diverse, so instead of big long strands of beach, you have pocket beaches and rocky areas. Especially in this area, because it sticks out on the coast and is full of reefs, we generally have larger surf, so the surf breaks here are world-class as compared to a lot of other areas in San Diego. I’m very fortunate to have grown up here surfing these spots.”
How is lifeguarding a beach with no towers, like WindanSea?
“Here at The Shack, we always have a couple people on staff and then, based on crowds and conditions, we switch patrol or set up satellite stations along the beach. It’s different than most beaches with set towers and areas. For us, we set out wherever the crowds are. We communicate by radio or hand signals. At WindanSea things happen really fast, so we have to be on alert and we all have to make sure we are communicating really well with each other. … Sometimes someone jumps in the water, you turn your back for one second and they are already getting sucked out far in the ocean. You have to trust and rely on the other guys on the beach, that they are seeing it, and that you guys are communicating well with each other.”
What do you like the most about being a lifeguard?
“I always wanted to help people, and out of all the jobs I’ve ever done, I think this one has that aspect the most. We’re constantly interacting with the public; there’s never a day when we are not helping someone who got injured or making water rescues.”
Got a safety tip for beachgoers?
At WindanSea, before you surf out here, make sure you are experienced enough to handle the diverse terrain, and not put yourself in a position where you can get injured by another surfer or the reef or the waves. Because it’s such a beautiful beach, it’s so appealing to paddle out. If you are a swimmer, the places to avoid would be the rocky areas, because the rip currents feed around the rocks.
What is your favorite beach in La Jolla?
“I would have to say all of them. I change it up. I go to the beaches from Bird Rock all the way to Black’s Beach, and they all have their strengths, they are all beautiful in their own way.”