LJ beaches losing two lifeguards

Two La Jolla fixtures that, for years, have been paid to sit on the beach - Jimmy Canale and Tom Thayer - are retiring at the end of June.

Thayer deflected the image of the lifeguard’s life as an easy one.

“Jimmy Canale and I are the only two who have made it through a career of beach lifeguarding,” he said. “Everyone else has been disabled or gone on to being a superviser. It’s hard on the body swimming and rescuing people. You get banged into reefs and things. There are a lot of ways to get injured doing this job, lots of back and neck injuries. Jimmy and I are still limping around - but we’re still functioning.”

And they’re both retiring to avoid a cut in their retirement benefits, which change on July 1. By leaving now they lock them in at a higher rate.

Multi-talented pair

Thayer, 59, is a 35-year veteran lifeguard who has spent 20 years as a key member of the Dive Team and been involved in several high-profile recoveries. He spent much of that time at the Children’s Pool tower and is known both as a master of the rescue board and his work on research and development of the boards.

Thayer’s father taught him to ride waves when he was 4. He often can be seen on his longboard somewhere between Rock and the Children’s Pool when the waves aren’t right for bodysurfing.

Canale, 53, was born and raised in Orange County where he followed in his brother Pete’s footsteps, who was a Newport Beach lifeguard.

Canale spent much of his career in San Diego guarding difficult rock reef beaches such as Windansea and La Jolla Cove, where his coworkers say his experience has been invaluable in the training and supervising of both winter and summer lifeguards.

Stories to tell

The two have a wealth of stories about their years on the beach.

Thayer offered one that he said sticks out in his mind about a Midwestern teen he saved and “turned” into a surfer.

“She was on a Boogie Board and got blown out (to sea) and was freaking out, hysteric,” he said. “I got to her on my rescue board and she was still freaking out and screaming at the top of her lungs. I told her, ‘Stand up, bend your knee, we’re going to ride this one to the beach.’

“She stood up and had a big smile on her face,” Thayer recalled. “I like to turn people around, twist them (out of their frame of mind) in a situation.”

Canale’s memorable moment came, not surprisingly, with a lifesaving rescue.

“One guy I knew, his heart stopped for seven minutes and he was flatlining,” he said. “We gave him CPR and they came down with the defibrillators and shocked him and he came to life and said, ‘Hi.’ It scared me to death. I thought he was gone for sure.”

Canale said the man then to the City Council and is responsible for getting defibrillators for all of the guards.

Canale talked about how he’s bonded with the community of La Jolla.

“I’ve known people since they were babies on the beach,” he said. “I’ve mentored them and the next thing you know, they’re working alongside me. The Jewel’s taken care of me. I’m fortunate enough to have worked here. It’s just been a great ride.”

Canale said he wants to try and come back part-time as a lifeguard during summers. In the meantime, he said, he hopes people will stop by to visit in on June 26, his last fulltime day on the job. They can also keep an eye on him at his Web site at


During his career, Canale has also patrolled Mission Bay as a marine safety officer, worked as a marine firefighter, and crewed on an offshore surf rescue boat. He has been nominated by his peers in San Diego on three occasions for Lifeguard of the Year and has received the T.J. Wallace award for Most Inspirational Lifeguard.

Nicknamed “Wheat Grass,” the tall, lanky Thayer has been known to wear magnets, hold magic crystals, do aromatherapy, spin in circles to get rid of the bad energy, and chant and hum.