Life's a beach in San Diego. Stamp that on a postcard picture of sand and water and you've got a pretty good idea of what the rest of the world thinks of our little paradise.
Here's the thing about paradise, though. Everyone wants a piece of it, especially when the beach temps hit a 75-degree stride and the Pacific Ocean no longer feels like the Arctic.
Every summer, serene shorelines turn into tangled messes of bronzed and burned sunbathers, water-winged children running wild and swimmers who couldn't master a dip in the kiddie pool paddling out into the deep blue sea.
Somebody's gotta keep on eye on all this madness, and that duty falls upon the broad shoulders of seasonal beach lifeguards like 25-year-old Sean Vienna. The strapping Cal graduate and former pro water polo player (ladies, he's single!) rocks the red trunks and zinc oxide in Coronado, where he grew up. Sean, also a substitute teacher, eventually wants to get into city planning, but for now says lifeguarding is a sweet way to spend the summer.
'Most days I work, I see the sunset and have a panoramic view of the ocean. Shoot, it's not a bad gig.'
He offers a few tips on beachgoing for tourists and locals alike.
Cover your naughty bits
This isn't Ibiza, people. With the exception of Blacks Beach, where nudity is tolerated (by those with strong stomachs-why is it that the least attractive people so love to be naked?), San Diego beaches are not clothing-optional. Sean particularly enjoys enforcing this rule. 'In August, the Europeans come and we have to tell all the girls to put their tops on.' Ladies, don't make him tell you twice. Or do.
Which leads us to: Fa-fa-fa-fa-fashion
Sean and his fellow lifeguards are used to seeing every shape and size in every conceivable getup. We at CityBeat are not, and would like to take this opportunity to remind you that skimpy string bikinis are for pilates bodies and banana hammocks, especially à la Borat, immediately beg the question: 'Is he Euro or is he gay?' As for this summer's fashion trends, Sean says 'what's hip now is short shorts, like retro board shorts.' If you've got the muscular thighs of a 6-foot-3 athlete like he does, we say go for it.
It's sink or swim out there
Metaphorically, that saying means to jump into something new and either doggie-paddle your way to safety or drown. Literally, it's every lifeguard's top concern. 'People who don't really know how to swim go into the water thinking they can still touch the bottom and are fine,' says Sean. 'They don't realize that the ocean keeps on moving and that a rip current can come and suck you out to sea.' Use common sense and swim near a lifeguard station. Also, 'if it looks dangerous it probably is.' Big waves really can beat a beginner down. Finally, don't go swimming in your day clothes. 'Who do we have to rescue? Guys who go in wearing jeans and a T-shirt. We always know we're going to have to save those people.'
Keep your kids on a leash
We're not talking an actual leash, like all those weird yuppies carried around in the '90s. But do keep an eye on them. Not only do your sugar-high offspring kick sand in the faces of innocent, childless beachgoers, but while you're busy slathering on oil and yakking on your cell phone, those shovel-and-bucket-carrying tykes are making their way to the opposite end of the beach. And then they freak out. And then you freak out. And a lifeguard like Sean has to handle the situation. 'We deal with loads of lost children. And we deal with parents who are convinced their children have drowned but really they just wandered off.'
Baywatch: The reality
'Oh man,' laughs Sean. 'If I have to see one more person do a slow-motion run in front of my lifeguard truck....' Though no one could ever be as glamorous in red as Pammy Lee or the Hoff, Sean says lifeguards get their share of admiration every now and again. 'People do like you and get impressed. Sometimes people from other countries come and want to get their photos taken with us.' And, of course, telling girls you're a lifeguard doesn't hurt in the pick-up department. But, he adds, 'there are many days when you have to tell people not to do something and they get pissed.' We at CityBeat encourage you to be extra-nice to lifeguards like Sean. Why get lippy with someone whose lips might someday stand between you and certain death from water-logged lungs?
Best beaches for families: La Jolla and Coronado
Best beaches for partiers: Pacific Beach and Mission Beach
Sean's favorite beach: 'It's a toss-up between Coronado and Tourmaline.'