Encinitas lifeguard captain brings experience


For all his adult life, Larry Giles has been close to the shores of the Southern California coast, keeping close watch on the tide. For Giles, however, life’s no day at the beach. As the captain of the Encinitas Lifeguard Department, he has the very serious job of protecting the locals and tourists who flock to the Pacific every day — the number of which he has seen skyrocket.

“Everything has magnified over the years,” said Giles, who started as a seasonal lifeguard in 1988. “From being here as a little kid, it’s grown quite a bit. I’ve watched as the freeway expanded and widened, and have seen more and more people come to the beach ... not just during the summer, but the off-season as well. The amount of calls we get during the fall, winter and spring have increased. In Encinitas, we have 2.5 million visitors a year; that number grows annually.”

Giles’ family’s roots have been in Encinitas since his great-grandfather moved to the coastal town in the 1930s. When Giles was an adolescent, he took to the ocean like a fish, and upon graduating high school, a career as a lifeguard was a natural fit.

“I was originally going to be a welder, but decided I didn’t want to sit in some warehouse and weld all day long,” he remembers. “When I first started working, San Diego County disbanded its lifeguard service.”

At that point, it was up to individual cities to patrol the ir beaches, and Giles was smack in the middle of the transition.

“The way I would describe lifeguarding in the 1980s is that the equipment was as cutting-edge as it could be, but it wasn’t there yet. You didn’t have anything too advanced, so it was sometimes a challenge. That being said, the equipment out there today is amazing.”

Throughout the years, Giles saw himself slowly but surely move up the ranks.

“I basically started from ground zero and worked my way up,” he said of his humble beginnings as a tower guard. “I’ve worked every position from the ground floor to the very top. I didn’t move up rapidly, but I was here for a long time and became aware and knowledgeable about every position.”

Today, as the captain of the Encinitas Lifeguard Department, Giles oversees a massive team that handles a lot more than just rescuing distressed visitors from the ocean now and again.

“We do so much more stuff than people realize. From river rescues, cliff rescues and finding lost people, to name a few. It’s also such an extended group of people who make it all happen on a daily basis, from the paramedics to firefighters and the Sheriff’s department. I know that the payoff of everything is that people feel safe. I always ask myself, ‘What would I want for my family?’ That’s how I treat both the locals and visitors.”

In the coming weeks, North County beaches will reach their peak period for the entire year — Fourth of July weekend typically sees the highest volume of people, and with the holiday falling on a Friday this year, the department is gearing up for an onslaught of visitors.

“Before we even get close to the holidays, we have a plan in place,” said Giles on how he prepares the department. “I work with everyone to make sure we have our resources ready; a lot of stress can be diffused when you try to keep everything under a sustainable, organized fashion, with everyone working together. I have certain assignments for the holidays, and we make sure we put people who are experienced in certain geographic areas. That’s how I feel calm and confident going into the busy season.”

Giles is also gearing up for growth for the department’s services and equipment. Last month, the Encinitas City Council approved a $3 million plan to finance the expansion and reconstruction of the Moonlight Beach lifeguard tower. The top floor would expand from 144 square feet to more than 1,000 square feet.

As another summer gets into full swing, Giles looks back on 26 years of service.

“There’s been more successes than there have been situations where I couldn’t save someone,” he says.

“When I’m proudest is when my staff and lifeguards underneath me work as a team. There are days when I walk on the beach and think it’s a miracle someone didn’t drown because of the conditions or the crowds. That’s a testament to the department.”