The beach is all fun and games — unless you’re a lifeguard, of course, in which case it’s a locale with almost as many safety concerns as grains of sand.
The lifeguard division of the L.A. County Fire Department is preparing for a busy Labor Day weekend, the unofficial cap on a summer season that has drawn millions of people to Santa Monica’s beaches since Memorial Day weekend.
The fire department is planning to hire more lifeguards ahead of the late-summer rush, spokeswoman Lidia Barillas said, and the filing period for the lifeguard candidate exam closes Friday at 5 p.m.
“It’s been a relatively busy summer,” Barillas said. “With warm weather and some challenging ocean conditions, it’s been busy. But it’s pretty normal for what we expect.”
Roughly 6.9 million people since May 28 have flocked to Santa Monica’s beaches, which run from Chautauqua Boulevard down to the northern edge of Venice. They comprise the lion’s share of the 9.5 million local beachgoers since the start of the calendar year.
Of the approximately 143,000 lifeguard prevention actions since Jan. 1, about 113,000 have been logged since Memorial Day weekend. Actions include keeping swimmers away from Santa Monica Pier and telling beachgoers about potential hazards.
The lessons don’t always sink in. Santa Monica lifeguards have reported 1,666 ocean rescues since the beginning of 2016, including about 1,400 since late May.
Most of the rescues involve swimmers who are either stuck in rip currents or surprised by sudden inshore holes — spots where the depth of the water changes dramatically due to irregular sand topography, Barillas said.
“It’s hazardous for small children because they may or may not know how to swim,” she said. “It happens so quickly.”
Officials urge beachgoers to swim in front of open lifeguard towers and consider their abilities in the water before going out too far. Beachgoers are also urged to check in with lifeguards before entering the ocean.
“We’re more than happy to point out the hazards,” Barillas said.
Parents are asked to make sure their children know where they’re located relative to the closest lifeguard tower. Lifeguards have logged 437 parent-child reunions this year, including 371 since Memorial Day weekend.
“That’s a lot,” Barillas said.
Lifeguards are also keeping an eye out for a wide variety of rule violations. They regularly remind people that drones, dogs, alcoholic drinks and fireworks are not allowed on the beaches. Barbecues are only permitted at cement pits in designated areas such as Dockweiler State Beach in Playa Del Rey and Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. Barillas noted the safety issues surrounding hot coals as a primary reason for the barbecue ban at other beaches.
Meanwhile, plans are in place to handle bigger crowds on Labor Day weekend. Towers in popular locations, including those near Santa Monica Pier, will likely have extra staff depending on anticipated attendance and other factors.
“We look to see what the water and weather conditions are, but even if those two aren’t good we still typically hire a little extra because it is a holiday weekend,” Barillas said.
The lifeguard division will also likely have an extra baywatch boat on patrol, a tactic that Barillas said was used around the Fourth of July.
And the department is monitoring Metro ridership as it makes hiring decisions, considering the impact of the Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica on beach attendance. The new portion of the transit line opened in May.
“We’re expecting that’ll increase traffic,” Barillas said.