One La Jolla lifeguard and one dedicated Cove-swimmer got special recognition from the San Diego Lifesaving Association during its 52nd annual Hardy Awards dinner banquet at the Mission Bay Yacht Club on Aug. 6.
La Jolla Shores Ambassador Tristan Sullaway was given the Seasonal Lifeguard of the Year award, and La Jolla Cove swimmer Dan Simonelli was bestowed with the Citizen Rescue of the Year award.
Nine awards in total were given out, as nominated and voted on by lifeguards citywide.
Now in his sixth year as a seasonal lifeguard for the City, Sullaway called the recognition “an amazing award to get” and added “I hoped to achieve something like this, but for my peers to nominate me — and to get it — is something I will always keep with me.”
As a Lifeguard Ambassador, Sullaway works with the concessionaires such as kayak rentals, surf camps and other beach-based businesses that operate from La Jolla Shores; is a liaison between the public and these companies; and is a point-of-contact for any events happening at the beach.
“A big part of The Shores is kayak usage, and this is a unique area in that we have a boat launch that cars can access and drive up on the beach from, which is a big attraction,” he said. Plus, with the passage of Senate Bill 946, which allows for vending in California’s parks and beaches, there is a new element to his job.
The vendors, Sullaway said, are a “new, unique thing happening down here that is adding to the dynamic of the beach.” As if on cue, two pushcarts with bells chiming to sell ice cream and snacks, cross in front of the lifeguard tower. “The public has had some issues with them, because they are not used to the vendors being here and don’t like hearing the bells all day,” he said. “They definitely voice their opinions on that to me.”
This is his first summer as a Lifeguard Ambassador, but the 23-year-old guard has been frequenting the La Jolla coastline his entire life.
“I grew up surfing Windansea and a big part of the culture down there is the lifeguards,” Sullaway explained. “I had friends that were older and watching them get into this field made me want to do it. So I was 17 when I went into the Academy, and my first summer guarding was in between high school and college.”
After graduating from high school, he went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and continued to guard over the summer.
His lifelong familiarity with the ocean, Sullaway added, has been a “huge part” of the skills he brings to the job.
At one time, Sullaway guarded the Children’s Pool area, and unlike in La Jolla Shores, where you can see everything from the lifeguard tower, when an emergency call comes in, “you have to drive to these obscure places with minimal descriptions, so familiarity with these areas is a huge advantage,” he said.
“La Jolla is so dynamic, from Black’s Beach to Bird Rock, and I grew up playing in all those nooks and crannies. It’s tough when you work at a place that isn’t where you grew up. I know when I go somewhere else, I make flash cards for myself to learn addresses and landmarks. There are a million little things that can help,” he said.
In his Hardy Awards nomination form, La Jolla Shores Sgt. Wes Fransway credited Sullaway with his “incredible lifeguarding instincts” and said, “Though young, Tristan is mature and is able to make correct decisions that best serves the community and his team. He is always radiating positive energy and is a great teammate.
“As many lifeguards say, the true testament of being a good lifeguard is ‘when you are on your last breath and need help, who do you want as your backup?’ It’s safe to say that Tristan Sullaway is a guy everyone would want.”
This year, Sullaway will apply to be a permanent lifeguard for the City of San Diego.
La Jolla Cove Swim Club president Dan Simonelli put his life at risk to save a man from choppy waters at The Cove during a rescue just before 7 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 10 (before lifeguards reported for the day) and received the Citizen Rescue of the Year award for it.
“It was a nice surprise, since it happened so long ago,” Simonelli told La Jolla Light. “Over the last few months, I would see lifeguards I knew and they would give me their perspectives; but this was a little more formal, it made me feel honored.”
As previously reported in the Light, Simonelli said he was at The Cove with a group of students observing the water conditions when he saw the male swimmer (whose name Simonelli did not get) walking down the stairs from Scripps Park toward the ocean shore.
“He didn’t have fins or anything. I thought he was just a local guy and knew what he was doing. He starts to swim and I could tell he wasn’t a strong swimmer,” Simonelli said, noting that large waves were coming in a way the swimmer did not see.
Simonelli and his students watched wave after wave hit the swimmer in the face as he neared an area known as “The Hole” and Simonelli knew he had to act.
“I grabbed my suit and fins, and I just went down,” he said. “When I got to the top of the stairs looking for him, he must have been right in the opening of The Hole. That is the worst place to be with big waves because you can’t get out and the waves keep hitting you.”
Explaining that the “turbulence” of aggressive waves is toward the surface top, Simonelli said he tried to instruct the swimmer to dive as the waves approached.
“You have to get under the top, because under the wave, it can be calm,” he said. “We had been getting under during a set, but when the third one came, the swimmer stayed above. I was totally exposed and got flipped and tumbled three times and I was just expecting to hit the rocks.
“I found my balance and got up, but since I got pushed back, I was 30 feet behind the guy and another wave was coming. I got to within 10 feet behind him and yelled at him to go under. I went under early and spread my arms out wide, hoping he would get pushed into me.”
Now within arm’s reach — and with Simonelli “not going to let him go” — the two got closer to a current that would pull them farther away from where waves were crashing.
“It took me five minutes to get him to where it was safe,” Simonelli said. “There was no one around, but before I went in, I told the kids to call 9-1-1. I finally heard a siren and saw a lifeguard getting ready with the rescue. I told the swimmer the lifeguards were coming.”
When lifeguards arrived, they were able to get the swimmer onto a rescue jet ski. Because the swimmer was able to move all his limbs, Simonelli said he believed the swimmer would recover.
“The crazy thing is, I still don’t know what happened to the guy,” Simonelli said following the award, joking, “I assume he recovered, otherwise I wouldn’t get the Rescue of the Year.”