Category Archives: Aliso Beach Safety

Great White Shark Activity


great white shark, art, great white shark painting, Whitney L. Anderson

Whitney L Anderson with Great White Shark Painting

From the near fatal Great White Shark Attack at San Onofre weeks ago and the OC Sheriffs Helicopter warning a paddle boarder of being in the middle of a pack of 15 sharks to personally seeing sharks thrash around the water 10 feet or less from the sand and the OC Register report of a shark at Thousand Steps Beach, the danger has become very real to this South Orange County Body Boarder and ocean enthusiast. A friend in Laguna Beach had suggested that there was a sighting at Aliso Beach several weeks back and I immediately drove up to Aliso to speak with a lifeguard supervisor who was unaware of any sighting.  That day curiosity got the best of me and I headed to Capo Beach where there has been many daily sightings over the last several weeks.  Sure enough, I got to see them in the surf zone at a spot I have paddled out at in years past.  I was moved by the fear of a friend of mine who has been in the San Clemente to Laguna community as a former professional body boarder for the bulk of his life.  I would like to acknowledge Joe Grodzen and I wanted to relay the sentiment of what he said on Facebook.  He spoke of his deep ties to the ocean and those of his wife Keila whom is also a former professional body boarder.  Raising a young boy and giving him the gift of beach and surfing culture, it is not lost on Joe how concerning the rash of shark sightings from San Onofre to Long Beach, California is.  Joe for the most part is a very unflappable, competitive and in the moment kind of personality.  What he said was very raw and very real.  Reading his thoughts, I was affected by the fear he had related to the presence of these sharks in what perhaps is a new normal along our coastline with regular visits.  He echoed the sentiment that he may have to give a second thought to being in the water to keep he and his family safe.  Joe has been at this far longer than I have, and to hear a man that has spent nearly every day of his life since he has been old enough to walk in local ocean waters express a genuine concern for his safety, it definitely caught my attention.

Still trying to process the swarm of so many sharks in the area, I did return a second time to Capo Beach noticing the shark warning signs, and eventually seeing one splash around 10 feet or less from shore.  It is probably not a good idea to be in the water at all at Capo.  Rumor has it that boats and perhaps kayakers are chumming the waters to attract the sharks.  Some of these boats are alleged to be whale boats capitalizing on the presence of these toothy new inhabitants of Capo Waters.  Any reasonable human being should not approve of throwing blood and guts into the water near shore for commercial gain, capturing footage or taking photographs.  This is a really bad idea that may contribute to a fatality and should be stopped immediately.  My hope is the lifeguards and authorities can identify those perpetrators and force them to stop.  As far as I can see that is harassment of a federally protected shark but what do I know.  If this is being done please stop this very reckless behavior.

Since I spend more time at Salt Creek and the coves of Laguna Beach, I felt like I was relatively safe in the zones I like to play in.  Given the explosion of shark numbers close to shore in San Clemente and Capo Beach, the idea that there are no great whites near shore at Salt Creek and Laguna Beaches rests on quicksand.  It simply doesn’t hold.  A Laylan Connelly, Orange County Register Article, shattered my idealized safe zones with a shark spotting at South Laguna’s Thousand Steps Beach and the mention of a shark advisory at Salt Creek.  Say it isn’t so!  I don’t know what I am going to do personally and I am feeling like I may put myself on a self-imposed time out, and as Joe Grodzen so eloquently said, what are we going to do? Ocean enthusiasts have built their lives around washing away all that ails them in the ocean and doing something athletically that keeps them happy.  I don’t know the answer to this question, and I suppose time will tell.  Having paddled way out at Salt Creek and sitting in the kelp paddies, I admit that I have thought about the unseen below that perhaps I don’t want to know is there. The ocean and local waters are home to the Great White Shark, but I cannot say that in over the 30 years I have spent time in these waters, that this is normal in any way shape or form.   How I feel about this situation will in no way dictate the behavior of sharks and where they choose to set up shop.  While I pray that their presence will come to pass and they head out to deeper waters, their continued presence could put a damper on what little ocean time I have as it is.  Having had a fin pop up on me in Baja while body boarding alone at a northern stretch of La Fonda, I really don’t want to find myself in that situation again.  Fortunately, a well-timed set arrival got me out of there before I could stare into the intentions of presumably a Great White Shark…and I prefer that to be the last time I find myself in the water with one.

I would like to take a moment to thank my friend and artist Whitney L. Anderson, a brilliant painter and collage artist residing in Seattle, Washington.




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Lightning Strikes


Lightning strikes twice in South Orange County today.  I started at Salt Creek after my morning juice run.  It was overcast, warm and muggy with threatening skies but the surf looked okay.  The parking lot was full and the surf looked good enough to paddle out.I decided to throw the wetsuit on and run down the hill at Salt Creek to get a few waves while anticipating building surf from Hurricane Delores.  It started to rain as I got ready in the parking lot.  I stopped to help a tourist from Holland locate the address for her whale and dolphin adventure with Captain Dave in the harbor.  It was interesting she said that my being nice and helping her was how friends in Holland said we would be if she needed help.  It does feel pretty to hear that people in other countries think favorably and I have to say that with our position in world affairs, I was rather taken aback.  As she walked away and I got closer to locking the car up, the tropical rain started coming down.  Moments later, those in the parking lot saw the first crack of lightning and booming thunder of the approaching storm. I realized that despite my helping the lady from Holland out that although my gesture was kind and helpful that there was a likelihood that they would take people out on the water in the deteriorating conditions.

lightning strikes. lightning shelter, aliso beach

Aliso Beach Lightning Shelter

As I got down the stairs and headed under the bridge towards the beach, I noticed masses of people were coming up hurriedly to avoid the rain.  When I got to the bottom, there was nobody on the beach except for a few surfers that were defying the orders of lifeguards to clear the water and sand.  At least I got the exercise of coming back up the hill.  I watched the waves for a little bit up by the snack bar watching a squall unleash rain over the ocean towards Catalina Island.  I gave up pretty quickly as it became apparent that there was more weather to come.  I walked back to my car.

Since I cover Aliso Beach, I decided to change and drive north to see what was going on under storm watch at my favorite beach.  When I pulled into the parking lot on the coastal side from the north bound lane of South Pacific Coast Highway, I realized that the gate to the beach had been shut and locked.  I was struck by how empty the parking lot was so lifeguards I assumed and later confirmed that they gave an order to clear the beach.  I parked up on on the hill along the south bound lane of the highway and walked down a soggy trail down to the parking lot.  There was nobody on the beach and on one in the water.  Not even a local skim boarder was doing his or her thing in the corner down at Aliso and yes that is a rarity.

There were two lifeguards sitting in a compact car.  They confirmed that an order to get off the beach was given and indicated that they were instructed to be in the car and keep watch.  A group of beach goers had left all of their beach gear on the sidewalk as if they were chased by the lightning strikes and were huddled under the awning of the Sands Cafe out of the rain and reasonably safe.  I stood and watched for awhile looking for increasing surf just along enough to be soaked.  I was over it and decided to go home. It continued to rain well into the afternoon with partial clearing up off the beach a couple of miles but I never went back.  It is nice to get rain like this considering  the drought and how dry everything has become under water restrictions.  I will start over tomorrow in hopes of getting waves from Hurricane Delores minus the lightning that accompanies this tropical weather.  Be safe out there.



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Aliso Beach Bees


In anticipation of high surf from Hurricane Delores down off Cabo San Lucas, I spent a few hours watching the waves at Aliso Beach.  It was a typical day there.  The coastal side parking lot was full and cars lined the south bound lane of PCH on the incline headed towards Dana Point. Umbrellas added color to the beach, children frolicked in the playground, young girls in bikinis cooled off at the water’s edge, families reserved the fire pits for evening festivities and lifeguards watched the every move of beach visitors taking on the pounding shore break.  The waves weren’t big today, but even a 3 footer hitting the shore at Aliso Beach is cause for alarm when it comes to lifeguards keeping everyone safe.  It was business as usual.

I sat on the benches overlooking the sand and ocean and as I watched people and the waves, I became aware of the bees swarming the trash cans looking for sweet foods and drinks. Have you ever had a bee try and squeeze itself into a soda can while you were drinking it? If you are like me, you have taken a drink and had to spit out an aggressive bee that could not keep its mouth out of my sugary drink.  A sting on the inside of the mouth or a swollen tongue doesn’t sound like a great day at the beach to me.  While I have been disappointed by Yelp Reviews on Aliso Beach that degrade my favorite Laguna Beach due to the bee and trash can problem, I do understand that some are allergic to bee stings, no one wants to be stung by a bee while at the beach, and there is nothing good about a child or anyone getting stung at the beach whether they are allergic or not.  Aliso Beach bees buzzing around the trash cans are hardly a new problem. They have always been around during the summer and on warm days.

I watched a heavy set elderly women struggling up the narrow sidewalk with her walker and a small dog passing by where I was sitting on the bench. I thought to myself, “Oh God.  Don’t let her get stung”.  She didn’t seem to be aware of the bees and nor did they seem to bother her much. The bees seemed to be more interested in getting at whatever goodness they were after in the receptacles as she walked past me and I would say that was a good thing.  While the bees hardly noticed the lady as he lumbered by, they seemed to get in my face every so often and I wanted no part of it.  I must admit though, the Aliso Beach bees situation did encourage me to leave the beach before I got more sunburned than I did.  20 minutes of one eye on the waves and the other on the bees getting after the trash can left me with a slight burn.  Sunscreen my friends is never a bad thing and the less toxic kind the better, or so I am told.

Organize Chaos online has a nice piece on how to avoid bees and the problem is that the best solution would require the county to move the trash cans away from the beach. The trash cans line the sidewalk inches from the sand.  On the north end of the beach especially and extending through the snack bar area, beach visitors walk right past these trash cans on the way to the sand and water.  I will assume that the trash cans won’t be moved because there really isn’t any extra beach real estate to relocate them.  For that reason and the attraction of the bees to the trash cans, I stand by my advice to steer clear of them and take your trash back to your cars from the beach if you feel it is unsafe to stir up the bees looking for a free meal and drink.

If I were you and visiting the beach I would do the following to avoid Aliso Beach bees:

1) I would bag up all trash from food, snacks and drinks, seal them and take them home with you.

2)  Walk around the trash cans to and from the beach at a safe distance

3)  Watch children closely.  Their youthful exuberance and ignorance might not allow them to be aware of the bees.  There is nothing good about a bee sting at Aliso Beach for a child or parents.

Aliso Beach bees aren’t trying to be a pain in the you know what, but you do have to be aware of them.  As the founder of the Aliso Beach website, I hope you and family enjoy the beach this summer!  Be safe!

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Ocean Condition Education


High Surf Aliso Beach, Big Waves Aliso Beach, South Swell Aliso Beach

Big Wave Aliso Beach

Ocean condition education is really important for everyone.  Having a basic understanding of the dangers posed by the ocean and waves can save lives.  On the weekend of March 29th, a heat wave combined with beautiful beach weather and large waves brought inexperienced beach visitors together in ocean conditions that challenged even experts.  Waves in the 8-12 foot zone were exploding on the shoreline with children and adults wading in the shallows unaware of the fury headed their way.  On a February weekend, a teen that ventured to close to the large, breaking waves lost his life in a manner that was completely avoidable.  We have to acknowledge that if we choose to put ourselves in dangerous spots in the path of large incoming waves, we could be injured or die.  Injury or loss of life can happen in the blink of an eye.

There were so many people on the beach and I felt sorry for lifeguards whose ability to watch over a long stretch of beach was tested all day.  On one sweep of the beach a lifeguard sprinted north to the water in front of the mouth of Aliso Creek to keep some people out of the water that had no business swimming under those ocean conditions.  As he sprinted back south, he got to a parent desperately trying to hang on to a little one that was getting carried out towards the waves by white water pummeling him down the slope of the beach towards incoming waves.  It was a close shave for sure and that parent is lucky that the lifeguard got there in time to help catch that child.  6-12 foot waves and red flag conditions are no place for the inexperienced and little ones.

The whole point of this particular blog is to get people to think about how ocean current ocean conditions affect how they might experience the beach and how certain ocean conditions affect their safety in the water.  The people that can handle the water when the waves are big are an elite group of watermen, and while their getting out to the waves and riding them look easy, they will admit that the water conditions were heavy.  There were probably 10 people in the water that day and everyone else that made an attempt to get into the waves was clearly in over their heads and shouldn’t have been in the water.  Ocean condition education is important because it can literally save lives.  No beach day is complete without being in the ocean and waves.  Children look forward to getting in the water and waves when visiting the beach and are disappointed when they can’t be in the water.  Whether there are dangerously big waves or not, the attraction to the shore and the movement of the water is very real.  This puts kids on the firing line of large waves at Aliso Beach.

So, how do families get ocean condition education?  The first place that parents can go to determine if a beach day will be safe is surf reports like Surfline which gives you a current report for Aliso Beach and then a regional forecast for the next 3 days.    Beyond the 3 days this service becomes a premium and paid for service.  If you have a schedule where it is easy to make beach trip decisions for family within a 3 day period the Surfline report will work just fine.  I prefer the free service from Solspot because they provide a 7 day forecast for Aliso Beach and two regional long range forecasts .  One long range wave forecast is delivered late Monday and the other late Thursday. This offers parents the opportunity to look out over a 7-14 day period to see what the waves will be like at their favorite beaches around the times they plan a visit.  Just this past August I saved a family the trouble of holding a birthday party at Aliso Beach because I knew that Hurricane Marie would bring historic waves and severe beach erosion for the day it was planned.  I had a feeling the waves would eat away at the sand everyone loves so much and would pin visitors back in the parking lot.  That day was way to dangerous and it would have put a damper on a special day for a little boy!  Given the state of Aliso Beach following Hurricane Marie wave event was evidence that not doing the party at the beach was a great decision.

My personal recommendation for families with children that want to enjoy the water at Aliso Beach is to visit when the waves are 3 feet or below.  There are dangers with waves at 3 feet at this Laguna area beach because of the slope of the sand leading to the water and the shore break conditions typically found there.  At this size, there is a decent chance that your kids will be able to enjoy the water safely.  Generally speaking, a day of waves 3 feet or less would call for lifeguards to raise a green flag.  When it gets a little bigger than 3 foot they may change the flag to yellow which cautions beach visitors of higher surf than normal.  When you get above 6 feet they will fly a red flag and if you are anything but experienced, it is recommended you avoid the water.

If you forget to check the waves before heading down, make sure to talk with your friendly guys and gals dressed in red that work extraordinarily hard to keep you safe while at Aliso Beach.  They won’t bite!  I promise!  They will tell you if they think conditions are safe that day and they will make recommendations based on the day’s surf conditions that are geared to protect you.  Pay close attention to the flags green, yellow and red because they provide a great insight into how safe the water is for swimming that particular day.  Please note that with the arrival of wave events those flags can change colors in the middle of your visit as new wave energy arrives.  Again, this is another great reason to talk with lifeguards who are updated on the possibility of dangerous increases to wave heights and the presence of rip tides every day.  Lifeguards want to make sure that everyone gets home safe from a day of enjoying the beach.

There are opportunities for people to know the conditions before they go and I am surprised how unprepared people are for dangerous surf while at Aliso Beach.  If people talked to lifeguards on March 29th, their kids would not have been within 15 feet of the white water blasting the shore.  If people understood the color flag system used by lifeguards to tell them how dangerous the water is at present time, they would be much better off.  Beach visitors can use free reports online from the providers above for ocean condition education that gives them an idea of whether or not the water will be safe for a planned visit up to two weeks away.  I remember being a young boy and being excited about every visit to the beach from the foothills of Los Angeles County.  Getting in the cool water and waves was a huge draw for me and if I couldn’t get in the water, I was terribly disappointed.  The joy I found in being the ocean is not something that is lost on me as an adult and I know how excited people are to take a salt water plunge.  I get it!  My suggestion is that a quick ocean condition education through the free reports online and having conversations with lifeguards about current conditions at Aliso Beach will always go a long way to keep you and the kids safe when you visit the beach and find yourself staring at an often unpredictable Pacific Ocean.

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