Swell for Surfers, Not So Swell for Lifeguards

High surf kills one and keeps lifeguards very busy

Philip DeFalco

"I've never seen them like this before," said Zac Shepherd who's visiting San Diego with his family from Arizona.

For many people who only see San Diego's beaches during the summer months, these are the biggest waves they've seen.

A large south swell created by a storm in the south pacific has brought overhead weekend waves.  Lifeguard Lieutenant Nick Lerma said some parts of La Jolla had waves with fifteen foot faces.

While the county does see larger surf than this during the winter months, the summer crowds and less experienced swimmers are making this particular swell a little more labor intensive for lifeguards. Lerma said lifeguards had close to 150 rescues on Friday, and expected more Saturday.

One of the areas causing the most problems was the crystal pier. That section of beach was closed to swimmers after several were swept up in north to south currents and taken under the pier. 

"Often times people will be 100 yards away from the pier. They think they're okay, but in about a minute, they're going through the pier," explained Lerma. "We've had massive crowds go through the pier, which has resulted in rescues, and that's a dangerous rescue for swimmers and lifeguards."

Newport Beach was the site of a sad reminder of how dangerous the surf can be. 50-year-old Monte Kevin Valantin of Lawndale was killed Friday while body surfing the Wedge. The popular spot for body surfers and body boarders is known for steep, and dangerous waves that break away from a rock jetty. Hundreds of spectators were on the beach watching when lifeguards say a large set came in slamming Valantin into the rocks. There were reports of 20 foot waves at the wedge on Friday.

The surf is expected to decrease for the second half of the weekend.

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