Nearly a million beachgoers jammed Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange County beaches Monday, marking the unofficial first day of summer in Southern California style, with barbecues, bodysurfing, volleyball and sunbathing.
Never mind that the sun never bothered to show up for the party, leaving temperatures in the low 70s.
"We won't be deterred," said Tim Hastings, 53, of Orange, who showed up at 7 a.m. to claim a prime spot at Huntington State Beach for a celebration that would include four generations of his family.
"We rough it camping in the rain," said Hastings, as he worked on a feast of chicken, beans, sausages and burgers. "Besides, if it was too hot and sunny I might get sunburned."
The same hearty spirit was in evidence up and down the coast, with beachgoers continuing to arrive at 5 p.m.
"It was overcast all day, but it didn't stop the public; they sure as heck came down to visit us," said Robert A. Moore, the Los Angeles Fire Department operations captain for the beaches from San Pedro to Marina del Rey. "It's amazing."
Many in the crowds were perhaps out of shape after winter inactivity and kept lifeguards busy with rescues throughout the day.
"We've had small to moderate surf, but really large rip currents," said Marine Safety Lt. Bill Humphreys at San Clemente Beach.
Rip currents are caused when waves hit trenches and craters left from the stronger winter surf. "There's a lot of deep holes out there, and that churns up the current," he said.
Lifeguards at Zuma Beach made more than 100 rescues Sunday and more than 70 Monday, said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Jim Doman.
Lifeguards are familiar with the signs of someone needing help. "You see someone swimming and they're going away from the beach and getting hit in the back of the head with waves," he said.
Nearly 500,000 jammed Los Angeles County beaches from Marina del Rey north to Topanga, and Zuma had an estimated 110,000 beachgoers. Orange County officials estimated beach crowds at 250,000. "Of the three days, we had by far the most activity today," said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mickey Gallagher.
He said the Santa Monica Freeway was backed up all the way to the San Diego Freeway by midmorning after parking lots filled; Pacific Coast Highway was gridlocked, he said.
Around 3 p.m., a 30-foot powerboat caught on fire about 1 1/2 miles offshore of Marina del Rey, Gallagher said. Two 35-foot rescue boats extinguished the fire.
Two passengers had jumped into the water and were rescued. One was taken to a hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.
Jellyfish and stingrays also caused problems over the weekend. Orange County officials said they treated more than 100 people who had been stung.