A dramatic "blitz" rescue of eight swimmers on Friday in the El Porto neighborhood of Manhattan Beach highlighted common springtime ocean swimming dangers.
The swimmers were on a shallow sandbar at 40th Street in Manhattan Beach when they were swept off into a deep inshore hole. At that point, they were not able to touch the bottom and were pushed further off shore by a rip current.
In a video provided by the L.A. County Fire Department's Lifeguard Division, three lifeguards dashed out, followed by another lifeguard unit with a rescue board. Surfers who were in the water nearby also joined in to support the effort, bringing all of the swimmers to safety.
"We have those vary hazardous conditions right now where rip currents are really strong," said Pono Barnes, ocean lifeguard specialist for the L.A. County Fire Department, in a conversation with DigMB. "If there was huge surf it would probably deter a lot of people from entering the water. But in this little window we have right now [with smaller waves] it’s very inviting. That’s when people can get themselves into these sticky situations."
Springtime Can Bring Hazardous Conditions
Barnes said that in winter, the big waves can churn up the sandy bottom. Often what happens is that the water can create large channels or troughs as it rushes back to sea. These troughs often remain during the springtime and create hazardous conditions for casual ocean-goers.
"In winter, we tend to have larger surf, and those holes can get really, really big," Barnes said. "When springtime rolls around, and the water warms up, it’s not just surfers in the water. There are more people recreating, bodyboarding, and swimming - and we have kind of like that perfect storm of conditions," Barnes said.
Barnes added that another complication was the onshore currents that flow north or south. In the case of Friday's rescue, it was an onshore current that pushed the swimmers from the sandbar into the deeper trough, followed by a rip current that pulled them further out.
Ask A Lifeguard
When swimmers come to the beach, they should always position themselves in front of a open lifeguard station, said Barnes. (Not every lifeguard station has a lifeguard right now; there is scattered coverage during the springtime based on crowds and conditions.)
Barnes emphasized that swimmers should always talk with a lifeguard before entering the water to determine the best places to swim - or the places to avoid. You're never 'bothering' a lifeguard by asking about conditions, he added.
"We would actually prefer if you talk to us before you get in the water," said Barnes. "We love to talk to people and share our ocean knowledge with them."