Laguna Lifeguard Rescues Reach a Record


Guards Brace for a Hurricane Swell this Weekend

After playing in the tidepools with his 9-year old son on Labor Day, actor Shane Brolly took a swim in the surf off Victoria Beach. He swiftly was swept 100 feet from the sand, caught in a rip tide and boxed in by rocks on both sides. Brolly tried to swim for shore. Exhausted by the current, he called for help.

As his cries went unheeded amid the pounding waves and screaming kids, Brolly began to panic. “Somehow I managed the strength to shout one last time, ‘Get the lifeguard!’”

A young man standing beside his wife heard the plea and jumped in the ocean and swam toward Brolly. In the next moments a lifeguard summoned by his wife torpedoed through the water with a rescue buoy, Brolly recounted. “We had to go under massive waves before reaching the shore. It was no easy task,” said Brolly. “These two young men are heroes. I will be eternally grateful to them for saving my life,” said Brolly, who described himself as a 15-year weekend homeowner at Blue Lagoon. “I can handle waves. I know to go under. It was just the rip tide that seemed to appear from nowhere that dragged me out into a swirling madness.”

Weekend resident Shane Brolly on Victoria Beach.Photo courtesy of Shane Brolly
Shane Brolly with his family on Victoria Beach is grateful to lifeguards who rescued him on Labor Day weekend. Photo courtesy of Shane Brolly.

Brolly was one of a record 1,746 rescues lifeguards made over the three-day Labor Day weekend on local beaches, where red flags at most beaches signaled conditions for experienced swimmers only.

Rough conditions are expected to continue this weekend due to swells from Hurricane Linda coming up from Baja California. A National Hurricane Center advisory cautions that the swells will strike southern California and likely generate life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

With a good number of lifeguards already back in school, “It’s challenging to staff all the towers at this time of year,” said Jason Young of OC Lifeguards, whose guards staff county beaches south of Aliso Beach.

In spite of the reduced schedule, the extreme heat and the five to seven foot waves, guards were doing their best to caution those going into the water to determine their skill level.

“It was a Herculean-effort and they did a tremendous job,” said Captain Tom Trager of Laguna Beach Marine Safety, whose guards staff towers from Treasure Island to Irvine Cove.

In another rescue at West Street beach Sunday, Sept. 6, that Trager described as “very dramatic,” six guards braved a four-wave set of eight-foot swells to pull an unconscious man from the water with the aid of the department’s water-craft. Paramedics were able to revive his breathing before transporting him by helicopter to a regional hospital, said Trager.


Last weekend’s pounding surf washed away sand, exposing rocks at Aliso Beach. More big waves are predicted this weekend from a hurricane swell Photo by Jody Tiongco
Last weekend’s pounding surf washed away sand, exposing rocks at Aliso Beach. More big waves are predicted this weekend from a hurricane swell
Photo by Jody Tiongco

The hurricane-produced swells are not bad news for everyone. “Hurricane Linda should bring perfect surf if there are enough swells,” said Brandy Faber, organizer of Laguna’s long-running surf contest, the Brooks Street Surfing Classic.

Faber plans to monitor waves starting Friday morning. Predictions call for Linda to generate six-foot sets on Saturday and taper to four foot waves on Sunday, but waves must roll into Brooks at a certain angle for optimum conditions. “Linda has a favorable track for Brooks Street,” said Faber, adding that a Facebook page and the local surf shops will have the latest word about the status for the 52nd annual contest.

The storm conditions predicted for the weekend could potentially impact another water sport set for Sunday, Sept. 13, the Aquathon, a 30-year Laguna tradition. Though “officially” called off this year due to its immense popularity and record numbers of participants, an informal group planned to travel the historic route by land and sea from Emerald Bay to the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point on “a volunteer basis.”

Longtime organizer Gary Cogorno did not respond to queries about a possible cancellation due to the surf conditions.

While beaches this weekend will likely not be as crowded, Trager and Young both urge beach-goers to swim only near staffed towers and to speak with the guards before going into the water. Only experienced swimmers with two fins should even attempt to swim in the conditions predicted, said Trager.

Some beaches will be unguarded, but 11 towers in Laguna will be staffed including two on Main Beach, Treasure Island, Victoria, Woods Cove, the surf zone between Thalia and St. Ann’s, Picnic Beach, Shaw’s Cove and Irvine Cove.


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