Just because the calendar says January doesn't mean beaches become desolate tracks of sand.
Particularly in Laguna.
The 58-degree ocean didn't deter swimmers, kayakers, paddle boarders or scuba divers from visiting last weekend and earlier this week — a balmy period with plenty of sunshine.
Laguna Beach lifeguards operate year-round, and although the staffing isn't up to summertime numbers, marine safety personnel still keep a close watch on the intricate, craggy 5 1/2-mile coastline. It's tough terrain to guard, one that boasts little coves and rock outcroppings surrounded by steep cliffs dotted with oceanfront homes and throngs of visitors.
Being a lifeguard is all about perception. One has to be a staunch observer who notices the tiniest of details that laymen may overlook.
"Our job is to be super-observant," said Marine Safety Lt. Kai Bond, who became a Laguna guard in 1995.
On a recent weekday,
Bond headed north from Main Beach to Crescent Bay and Shaw's Cove beaches, both popular dive destinations.
Bond, 34, noticed two women in scuba gear ready to head into Crescent Bay and promptly approached them before they got into the water.
"I asked them what size tanks they had and how long they expected to be in the water," he said. "The equipment check is to see exactly when they will return to shore."
Bond also watched them maneuver safely past the shore break.
A large part of his job is being proactive and educating the public so fewer accidents occur.
"It's identifying problems before they happen," Bond said. "You have to be extra-aware of all your surroundings."
At Shaw's Cove, Bond noticed a dive marker 50 yards offshore. He asked two divers taking a break on the beach whether the maker was theirs. It was.
Looking south from Shaw's Cove, Bond could see two stand-up paddle boarders who looked like little black specks in the distance. On clear days he can see as far as the Dana Point headlands.
ifeguard Travis Lowry was manning the easily recognizable white tower on Main Beach, which boasts a 180-degree view.
It was close to noon and already 100 beachgoers had descended to play Smashball, build sand castles, walk along the boardwalk and sunbathe.
"I can look down the boardwalk and see any potential problems," Lowry said. "I can see a medical aid while it's developing."
On this day, two Main Beach towers were staffed — white and Laguna Avenue. Those working are in constant contact with one another via radios, ready to assist at a moment's notice.
In addition to fostering safety, lifeguards are on the lookout for potential crimes, such as visitors taking marine life from tide pools.
The tide pools inside city limits are within a marine protected area, meaning nothing is allowed to leave, including game fish, dead or alive invertebrates, sand, rocks or shells, according to information from the city's website and the city's marine protection officer, Jeremy Frimond.
When the tide is low, people are more likely to remove organisms from tide pools, Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said.
A group of kids who stood atop rocks at Treasure Island Beach, just below the Montage Laguna Resort, caught Bond's attention.
"I talked to them about not destroying tide pools," Bond said. "It's an easy way to get the word out about the rules and regulations for MPAs [marine protected areas]."
Bond urges parents to keep a close watch on their children, especially when no lifeguard is on duty.
If that is covered, it's clear sailing ... or swimming, surfing, paddle boarding or enjoying the scenery.
"Even if it's cold, people still come down to Main Beach and everywhere in town," Bond said.