Lifeguards have a funny relationship with summer.
“We always look forward to winter being done and the spring coming, things warming up and getting into summer,” said Lt. John Greenhalgh of the San Diego Lifeguard Service. “Then by the end of summer we’re looking forward to seeing it end, and getting all excited about the big north swells coming in winter.”
For surfers - and a huge number of our local lifeguards surf - there is something to love about every season, and the big north swells that come marching down the coast starting in fall make up for the steady decline in water temperature.
For lifeguards, summer also comes with tradeoffs. When Greenhalgh looks back on the summer of 2007, he remembers that the water temperatures that drifted into the mid-70s at times were accompanied by challenges including larger-than-ever beach crowds and huge numbers of jellyfish stings in July and August.
“Generally speaking, it was a very busy summer from the start,” Greenhalgh said. “We had a lot of visitors this year at all the normal spots: the Cove, WindanSea, the Shores. We also started seeing people using areas that are generally not used, just because of the number of the people.”
Greenhalgh mentioned a beach just south of Children’s Pool that in past years was hardly used, but this year saw consistent use as beach-goers searched for less crowded stretches of sand.
“We call it Red Tile Roof, it’s just south of Cuvier Street and the Wedding Bowl - we made rescues there on numerous occasions,” Greenhalgh said. “We’re seeing more and more people at that spot. People are figuring out that it is a beautiful spot.”
It is also slightly more dangerous than some other La Jolla beaches. Beneath the water at Red Tile Roof is a mixture of rocks and reef with sand channels in between, as opposed to the all-sand bottom at beaches like the Shores.
“It has rip currents, but as long as you know how to manage them, it’s not terribly dangerous,” Greenhalgh said. “Whenever you mix surf, rocks and reef, the danger is a little higher than a normal sand beach.”
Greenhalgh noted that when caught in a rip current, it is best to swim parallel to shore in order to get out of the current before swimming back toward shore.
Other challenges lifeguards faced this summer included a rush of jellyfish stings in late July and early August. The extra-warm water temperatures attracted black sea nettles, a huge species of jellyfish that packs an uncomfortable sting. Dozens of people came to La Jolla lifeguards complaining of stings over a span of a few weeks, and some were confused when lifeguards sent them back to the water.
“The most interesting part is that the best medical aid for those stings is to put salt water on it,” Greenhalgh said. “That was a little difficult for people to understand.”
The summer ended with an alcohol-fueled confrontation between police and beach-goers in Pacific Beach, which prompted San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer to promise to pursue a total ban on alcohol on San Diego beaches. Greenhalgh said lifeguards have no official position on the proposed ban and will take their direction from the mayor’s office.
“I think I’m clear to say that if people are drinking alcohol, one thing we don’t want them doing is going in the ocean,” he said. “And if they’re drinking to excess, we don’t want to see them getting in their cars to drive home.”
Greenhalgh said he had seen a slight increase in alcohol on the beaches where it is not already banned. Alcohol is already prohibited at La Jolla Shores and Marine Street. The La Jolla Parks and Beaches Committee voted last month to support a ban at WindanSea and the two pocket beaches to the south.
“We’re starting to see a little more increased use down around Palomar Street and the Big Rock area,” Greenhalgh said. “They’re allowed to drink there, and they’re taking that opportunity.”
Looking forward, the lifeguards are hoping to get approval for a new station at Children’s Pool. Proposed designs for the station have bounced back and forth between local planning groups, and the lifeguards will make their latest presentation on Sept. 24 at the Parks and Beaches Committee meeting to be held at 4 p.m. at La Jolla Recreation Center, 700 Prospect St.