After Warnings, High School’s Ocean Swim Ends With Mass Rescue

by Retta Race 9

April 01st, 2016 High School, News, Open Water

A confusing yet scary situation transpired earlier this week near a San Diego cove when a good portion of a local high school swim team found themselves having to be rescued from what they anticipated would be an uneventful annual open water training swim.

Despite reportedly being warned of the water’s ‘tough conditions’ by La Jolla cove lifeguards, nearly 24 members of the Rancho Verde High School, along with their coaches, moved ahead with their planned ½ mile swim. According to onlookers and officials, however, within 10 minutes of entering the water, several of the swimmers were seen raising their hands and signaling for help.

With water temperatures between 57 and 60 degrees along with wind gusts between 11.5 and 17 mph, the water was extremely choppy, quickly making swimming difficult for even the strongest athlete. “A couple of them started to panic which triggered other ones to get a little bit scared and it just snowballed into a mass rescue,” San Diego Lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris told ABC News.

2 students were taken to the hospital, one of whom was actually unconscious, likely from cold exposure and swallowing too much water. She was released later that night. 8 other swimmers were treated at the scene for the same issues.

Now San Diego fire officials and the school district are offering differing accounts of the situation.  According to ABC News, the school district said students and coaches had met with lifeguards prior to the swim, with lifeguard suggesting they postpone the swim. However, the lifeguards were told by the coaches that the student-athletes could indeed handle the swim.

“We wouldn’t advise a group this big to go in with the conditions we were experiencing,” said San Diego Lifeguard Lt. John Sandmeyer, who oversees the city’s lifeguard division.

“You can be the strongest swimmer in a pool and not be used to chop in your face, not to be used to the cold water when you go from 76-degree pool to 59-degree ocean.”

“They spoke to the coach and she said they did the swim the previous year and had no problem,” Sandmeyer said. “The truth is a disaster was averted.”

Chris Wynn, a Val Verde school district spokesman maintains, however, said the students provided written statements about what happened after they returned to the school Tuesday evening.

“The situation wasn’t as bad it’s being made out to be,” Wynn said. “Most students said they weren’t pulled out. They said they were asked to get of the water by lifeguards.”

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Swam here many times in rough conditions. With that experience I would never make the call, or choose to be responsible for sending high schoolers out into this water. Glad everyone is safe. Lesson learned I hope.

Swimmer A

I’m imaging how that talk went down with the coaches to the swimmers. Probably something like “I know these aren’t ideal conditions, but you guys need to tough’n up and push through this. This is nothing, we used to do swims like this all the time etc. etc.” This is has been my biggest complaint with swimming culture. There is such obsession with being tough and working the hardest that sometimes we put swimmers in compromising and dangerous situations. I remember doing an open water swim in similar conditions during a training trip. I knew it was a terrible idea, but when your coaches pressure you and more importantly when your teammates pressure you, saying no is not an option.… Read more »


In a lot of ways, I can agree with what you are saying. Certain extremes should not be tolerated or forced upon swimmers. Things like extreme underwater sets and open water swims in poor conditions endanger swimmers and are counter productive. The proper place to develop mental toughness and overcoming adversity with extreme practices should be done in a pool where it is relativly safe and a swimmer can actually have a chance to bail if they can’t handle it by grabbing a lane line or stopping on a wall. As opposed to open water where there is little to no saftey net. In the right situation, extreme sets that promote not listining to your body is essential to become… Read more »

Ecar Atterol

All the high-yardage coaches are downvoting you right now.


4 hours later. . . no down votes…


Let me guess… the coaches who think it’s prudent to send unseasoned swimmers (as far as open water + cold water swimming goes) into the ocean, don’t swim open water themselves (or swim at all?)

59F is wetsuit weather except for experienced, acclimated open water swimmers.

I don’t know the details but I’d want to know if any of these kids trained in 59F ocean w/ chop before? As lean (low body fat) pool swimmers, that’s another risk factor for going into chilly water.

Hypothermia is extremely dangerous for swimmers – read about getting “the claw” where you basically become paralyzed, not to mention disoriented.

Clearly a poorly planned and executed event and lucky no one drowned.


World class swimmer Katie’s McLaughlin fractured her neck during Cal winter training camp at an ocean beach. The injury wrecked her year thus far. Coaches should stop the hazardous, dangerous, ill-thought out, training. Injuries in the ocean are unnecessary. Too bad swimmers can’t tell a coach “NO, I will not put myself in harm’s way”. Coaches are dictators and if a swimmer speaks up, there WILL be repercussions and punishment and verbal and emotional abuse.

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