Environment & Science

Labor Day weekend: Strong rip currents at LA, Orange County beaches

Huntington Beach is busy with beachgoers on a recent afternoon.
Huntington Beach is busy with beachgoers on a recent afternoon.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Huntington Beach is busy with beachgoers on a recent afternoon.
The Huntington Beach Pier is located near the fire pits that are free to beachgoers.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


Labor Day weekend is known as the unofficial end of summer, making this weekend a busy one for beaches. The increased holiday traffic — coupled with possibly unsafe conditions — also means a greater possibility for lifeguard rescues as people flock to the ocean.

Recent shark sightings in and around the L.A. area have only added to emergency responders' concerns. 

Lifeguards in Southern California rescued 1,233 swimmers last weekend, according to the California State Lifeguards Facebook page. Lifeguards also offered a few tips and released a cautionary rescue video, which you can watch below.

The weekend outlook

Orange County beaches will have “a little more hazard, higher rip current potential and higher sets” at south-facing beaches such as the Wedge, Newport and Huntington compared to last weekend, National Weather Service San Diego County meteorologist Joe Dandrea told KPCC.

Waves will hit about 4 to 6 feet in Orange County, with some waves at 7 feet or so at the south beaches.

Wind will be a typical sea breeze at most Orange County spots.

L.A. County beachgoers can also “expect quite a bit of rip currents this weekend as a result” of a south swell, Oxnard station meteorologist Robbie Munroe said. “Waves might be a little higher than normal.”

Beaches typically sheltered from the islands, such as in the Santa Barbara area, won’t be as much of an issue, said Munroe.

Weatherwise, the beginning of the Labor Day weekend will be slightly cooler at L.A. and Orange County beaches, with highs in the low to mid-70s. By Monday, those beaches will experience temperatures in the mid-70s and possibly upper 70s.

A lifeguard's perspective: Watch a rescue

National Weather Service officials advise swimmers to stay in groups and near lifeguard stations. California state lifeguard captain Kevin Pearsall shared a few additional tips, including:  

In an effort to raise public awareness of the dangers, Huntington Beach Rescue posted a video of one of the 470 rescues they performed last week: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAQQON-6Jjo

Pearsall told KPCC the story behind the video.

"What you just heard basically happens anywhere from 12 to 20 times a day for that particular lifeguard or any lifeguard that is patrolling on an 8-hour shift," Pearsall said. "Human instinct is fear, and when you're not sure if you have control over whether or not you're going to survive or not, panic kicks in. And all lifeguards are trained extensively not only on the physical elements of rescue, but the psychological perspective of making sure your victim stays calm and cooperates."

Pearsall said that most lifeguards have a lifetime of swimming experience. They recruit people who've been on swim teams, on water polo teams and surfers.

"That's a huge asset, and a huge part of the recruitment element for lifeguards is they learn to surf at such a young age, and they become familiar with the water and the environment, as well as the ability to maneuver through it," Pearsall said.

This is Pearsall's 16th summer as a lifeguard.

"It's been a relatively a warm summer compared to last couple of ones that we've had, so that  makes it a little bit more used, so we have more visitors taking chances in the water. The water has been recently very warm — in the mid 70s, which is tropical and very enticing for people — so that gives us a little bit more work to do," Pearsall said.

Pearsall expressed excitement for the summer's final weekend.

"We're looking forward to this weekend. We're hoping for a safe weekend," Pearsall said. "It's Southern California. We love our beaches, we love our water."