Monastery Beach 7-11-19

The lifeguard tower on Monastery Beach on July 11, 2019.

A new lifeguard station aims to make one of Monterey County’s most dangerous beaches a little bit safer. 

Monastery Beach, south of the Carmel River mouth and north of Point Lobos, just got a new lifeguard tower, one of only two in the county. Monastery has gained a reputation over the years for its notoriously sneaky waves that break close to the beach, made more dangerous when coupled with cold water temperatures and a steep dropoff just offshore.

It’s one of the first beaches motorists see as they drive north out of Big Sur, an alluring place to stop after driving high up on cliffs with limited beach access. Monastery has been the site of about a dozen rescue missions a year and despite that response, numerous drownings in the past. The most recent death was in June, when 33-year-old Sridhar Ekambaram of San Jose drowned while trying to save his 5-year-old son. His son was ultimately saved by a bystander. (His family has launched a Gofundme campaign.)

California State Parks Supervising Peace Officer James Nethhelfer says the tower was installed on June 27 and was staffed for the first time on June 30 as part of a pilot program, just as peak tourism season kicks into gear. Over the next few months the state will evaluate the effectiveness of the lifeguard tower and decide whether it is something they should continue to fund. So far, the tower is scheduled to be staffed daily with a lifeguard from 11am to 7pm through Labor Day.

State Parks is using an older tower the Monterey region had loaned out to Oceano Dunes State Recreational Vehicle Area near Pismo Beach, but plans to replace it later this year, Nethhelfer says.  

Previously the beach had been part of a patrol route for the state lifeguard, with someone stopping by at intervals to check on beachgoers. State Parks had increased these patrols and added signage prior to deciding to staff a lifeguard tower there. 

When asked if there are plans for any more lifeguard towers in the region’s near future, Netthelfer says, “At this time I don’t think the resources are there for that.”

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