A body boarder at the Wedge rides a wave past a skim boarder who wiped out in Newport Beach on Friday, April 21, 2017. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)
All the ingredients for a busy beach weekend are coming together: temperatures in the 90s driving crowds to the coast; big waves drawing surfers; and spring-breakers looking to soak in the last days of their vacation in the sun and sand.
But be warned – there also will be dangerous waves and rip currents, closed access to tide pools, and rocks, and you might encounter red tide that can make the water a funky brown color or a stingray that can turn a beach day into a bad day.
And if you do go in the water, expect a bit of toe-numbing – the water is forecast to be in the upper 50s and low 60s.
Huntiington Beach-based Surfline.com is calling for waves in the 4- to 6-foot range, with occasional 7-footers, through Sunday, before the swell starts to drop on Monday. The largest waves will be found in Huntington, Newport and the Wedge, and areas of San Clemente, according to Surfline chief forecaster Kevin Wallis.
Laguna Beach lifeguards by Friday had put up “yellow flags,” meaning moderate conditions, with reports of waves in the 3- to 5-foot range.
Marine Safety Lt. Kai Bond said waves were expected to grow by Saturday. “It’s not a time to learn to do anything,” he said. “Know your limitations.”
Bond said the big waves will likely prompt a closure of tide pools because of hazards big waves can pose for people standing on rocks.
Looking out of the lifeguard headquarters window, Friday, Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Claude Panis saw a sea of people starting their weekend early.
“With the weather prediction, it has driven everyone to the coast, he said. “We’re getting (spring breakers) out getting their last chance at the beach and nice weather.”
Newport lifeguards reported an uptick in stingray injuries the past month, with four reports on Friday. “It’s just that time of year,” said Newport Beach Battalion Chief Brent Jacobsen.
County beach lifeguards were preparing for the busy weekend, OC Lifeguard chief Jason Young said. Extra staff will be added to watch the coast, but there will not be as many lifeguards on duty as during summer.
“We’re going to be strapped pretty thin,” Young said. “If it’s a summer crowd, we’ll be feeling it.”
He said lifeguards may put up red flags.
“The rips are pulling really hard. Red flags mean that to the best of our ability, everyone will be interviewed before they enter the water, and they need to prove they have experience,” he said.
Rocky areas that line the ocean will be closed to the public, he said.
“Just stay off the rocks during this whole weekend. It’s going to be a danger,” Young said.
Beachgoers may come across something that hasn’t been seen for a few years – a red tide from an algae bloom that has been showing up sporadically at some beaches, causing the water to turn a rusty reddish brown. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the red tide, also called “harmful algal blooms,” happen when colonies of plants that live in the sea grow out of control, producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.
Though human illness is rare, the blooms produce a toxin that kill fish and can make shellfish dangerous to eat.
Areas of south Laguna Beach and Dana Point had reports this week of red tide that turned the ocean a rusty red; Doheny State Beach mid-week had brownish water, but had cleared up by Friday. Surfer Justin Cote reported a thick red tide down in Encinitas in San Diego on Friday.
“It’s been flaring up in different areas, intensified and then clearing and coming back,” said Young.
He said the red tide can be irritating to some people, especially those spending a long time in the water, but it’s not considered a health hazard unless the Orange County Health Care Agency puts out a warning, he said.
“It can be a little stinky though,” he said. “It can put some people off.”