On sunny summer afternoons, there is a particular backcountry watering hole in La Honda that attracts children, adults and teens alike. It even draws attention from local wildlife.
'The other day there was a mama deer up there with her fawns,' said La Honda Pool Lifeguard Supervisor Carole Williams, pointing to a grassy slope just outside the iron gate that encircles the public pool, while a lone hawk circled above. 'We always joke, like, '€˜Cue the deer!' because they like to stop by.'
Sunbathers in dark sunglasses lounged on chairs near the clear blue water on a bright Wednesday in July while children, blissfully boisterous is the summer sun, tried hard to reconcile their excitement with the lifeguard's warnings.
'Don't run! Walk!' hollered Carissa Howland at an exuberant youngster from her shady poolside perch.
It's the 19-year-old Coastsider's second summer keeping a watchful eye on the pool. She's one of about 15 local teenagers and 'older folk' employed as lifeguards at the pool this summer, Williams said. Lifeguards always work in pairs '€“ one younger, one older '€“ in a kind of checks-and-balances system. Before the partnerships, teen lifeguards attracted parties of their peers to their watch zones, creating what Williams considers a safety hazard.
'We're trying to be more professional,' she said.
In spite of some tighter regulations, Howland says she looks forward to the job every day.
'It's not a drag to come to work,' she said. 'And, if I want to, I can go for a swim before and after my shift.'
Howland has roots up and down the Coastside '€” from Pescadero and La Honda to the Midcoast '€” and says she doesn't know anyone with a swimming pool. There's a small private pool tucked away in a Pescadero nook, she said, and the public pool at Half Moon Bay High School. That pool is closed to the public this summer due to budget constraints, said Dirk Alvarado, recreation supervisor for the City of Half Moon Bay.
That leaves the La Honda Pool as the sole option for Coastsiders looking for a public place to soak and grab some sun '€”0 away from the ocean fog and sand.
Serving South Coast residents since 1926, the pool was built at the same time the Cuesta La Honda Homeowners Guild was formed. Today, the 300 households in the guild own and maintain it through monthly dues.
Today, La Hondans cherish it as one of the few family-oriented gathering spots in the sleepy town, and as a one-of-a-kind summer venue.
'It's a hidden jewel,' said Nuala O'Sullivan, who lives down the street from the pool and visits almost every day with her two children. 'I get to have adult conversations with friends (and) catch up on gossip. You see kids and families. It's not overcrowded. And the view is beautiful '€” the redwoods and mountains are right there.'
The view outside the pool was the last thing on Brittany Rowden's mind last week. The 6-year-old had recently completed a successful swim test '€”
swimming the length of the pool and back '€” and was basking in her new deep-end privileges. Her father and siblings looked on.
'She was practicing every day before the big day,' said Kim Rowden, her father. He captured the milestone moment on film for her mother, who was out of town at the time.
The Rowdens floated, swam and splashed alongside about 15 friends and neighbors at the pool that day. A crowded day brings out about 50 people, Williams said; an average day brings in about half that amount. Parents come with their kids. They bring other people's kids. Kids ride in on bikes and skateboards. The pool's gate supports a line of small mountain bikes.
It's all part of the family atmosphere Williams has been promoting since she assumed the supervisor position five years ago.
'We want kids to take away memories from here,' Williams said.
One of those kids grew up to become a summer lifeguard at the pool. Kathy Wolf, affectionately known as the town gossip, boasts that she was born and raised in La Honda. She, Williams and some of the other older lifeguards are also colleagues at La Honda Elementary School during the school year.
'It's a social place and a safe place for families,' Wolf said. 'It's a warm environment '€” no stress '€- We talk a lot, but we do keep our eyes on the pool.'
This year, the pool is attracting a record number of visitors. Williams keeps an eye on the pool's revenue. Last year, it pulled in about $12,000 for the whole season, which runs Memorial Day to Labor Day. This summer, receipts show more than $8,000 has already come in, and the weather is still warming.
Williams says locals aren't contributing to the spike so much as new faces from Half Moon Bay and Midcoast enclaves. 'Word has gotten out' this year, she says. She suspects that families are also responding to the economy, substituting long-distance vacations for day-cations and stay-cations closer to home.
'I've been all over, and there's not another pool like this one in the area,' Williams said.