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    Lifeguards rescued more than 5,600 beachgoers over busy holiday weekend
    • July 9, 2024

    Lifeguards scrambled to save thousands of lives during the four-day holiday weekend when an inland heatwave drove crowds to the coast and big waves and strong rip currents threatened the beachgoers seeking relief.

    About 5,620 rescues were logged at Orange County area beaches over the four days from July 4 through 7, marking the busiest Fourth of July weekend in the past decade.

    Though each department’s stats are logged separately, a tally estimating rescues throughout the four days shows how hectic the holiday was.

    “The combination of it being a holiday weekend, inland heat and dangerous aquatic activity, with strong surf and rip currents, was kind of a perfect storm and kept it extremely busy,” said Huntington City Beach Marine Safety Battalion Chief Trevor McDonald, with 554 rescues logged at that beach alone during the four-day period.

    The agency with the most rescues over the four days was Laguna Beach’s 7.5 miles of coastline, larger than most other territories in the OC, where lifeguards made a total of 2,278 rescues – 1,206 of those to help people out of rip currents.  On the Fourth of July holiday alone, there were 828 rescues.

    “It was all-hands-on-deck for those four days,” said Laguna Beach Marine Safety Captain Kai Bond. “A forecasted heat wave, large south swell, warm water and the holiday. It was a recipe for high lifeguard activity.”

    People set up on Main Beach in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Lifeguards kept a watch on the crowds at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Lifeguards kept a watch on the crowds at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. The city was hosting a 4th of July Drone Show later in the evening. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Lifeguards kept a watch on the crowds at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. The city was hosting a 4th of July Drone Show later in the evening. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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    Another agency recording a high number of rescues was Newport Beach, with Lifeguard Battalion Chief Adam Yacenda calling it an “extremely busy,” weekend.

    There were 803 rescues over four days. To put that in perspective, Yacenda said a typical summer will have an estimated 1,500 rescues over three months.

    The uptick in swell brought waves in the 4- to 7-foot range, a “sweet spot” dangerous for inexperienced swimmers, but not big enough that people are scared to stay out of the water, he said.

    “We were at maximum capacity all four days of the weekend,” he said. “It was just a melting pot of conditions that created a very busy weekend for lifeguards.”

    Saturday also marked the 10-year anniversary of when Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson died during an ocean rescue during a Fourth of July holiday weekend, a four-day period when an even bigger swell brought dangerous conditions to the coast.

    “This could have very well been the busiest since the weekend that Ben passed 10 years ago,” Yacenda said.

    At Huntington and Bolsa Chica state beaches, there were an estimated 700 rescues.

    “Every lifeguard we had was working the last four days,” State Parks Superintendent Kevin Pearsall said. “It was incredibly challenging, waterwise. As the stats indicate, they were incredibly busy. The lifeguards definitely got experience and earned their salary on those four days. It was a success, because we didn’t have any drownings. This four-day weekend was just jam packed.”

    There were 14 missing people reported at those beaches, all eventually reunited with their parties. There were also six major medical aids, including one young child who needed treatment for second-degree burns after jumping into a fire ring on Friday morning, still hot from the prior evening’s bonfire.

    At the Doheny and San Clemente state beaches, there were 612 rescues, 559 of those due to rip currents. Crystal Cove State Beach had 165 rescues, according to authorities.

    Seal Beach had 34 rescues, as well as 43 medical aids, six of which were considered major.

    There was one mass rescue off of Surfside Beach in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 6, where tower guards were all out responding to rip currents while another six people were pulled out into the ocean near Anderson Street in a large rip current, requiring assistance from neighboring agencies, said McDonald.

    San Clemente lifeguards reported about 290 rescues during the four days, with 192 of those occurring on the Fourth of July, said Marine Safety Lt. Sean Staudenbaur.

    OC Lifeguards Chief Jason Young called it an “incredibly crowded” weekend and a “perfect storm” of dense beach population, warm ocean temps and a number of swimmers and surfers in the water – but thankfully, no major incidents or drownings occurred, he said.

    “I’m pretty proud of my lifeguards,” he said of the guards who watch over Salt Creek and Strands in Dana Point, Poche Beach in San Clemente, Emerald Bay in Laguna Beach and the Santa Ana River jetty area in Newport Beach.

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    There were 184 rescues logged in their coverage area, as well as 110 medical aids.

    Young said lifeguards have been encountering many people entering the ocean who don’t know how to swim, quickly turning into a medical aid as they take in water.

    “We can’t stress that enough, if you don’t know how to swim, you shouldn’t be entering the ocean,” he said.

    Another big swell is headed to the region around July 20, so lifeguards will continue to be on high alert, Young said.

    “We don’t see any slow down in sight.”

    ​ Orange County Register 

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