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Long Beach this weekend is unveiling a giant figure-eight-shaped floating playground in the open ocean off Fifth Place that will include a springboard, bouncer, monkey bars and more.

The structure, called a Wibit, is a bigger version of the floating play equipment that has been a fixture in Alamitos Bay near Horny Corner for the past three years.

The new structure cost $400,000, which came from the Tidelands fund that consists mostly of oil revenue and must be used along the coastline.

This is the first time the city is attempting to anchor such a flotation device in the ocean-facing part of the city’s shoreline. The Coastal Commission signed off on the location, which was chosen in part because it is not frequently used by boaters and kite surfers, officials said.

It is located near a planned concession stand at Alamitos Beach, which has yet to open after the city had to seek a new contractor to finish the facility.

Questions of water quality, however, are bound to arise, as the structure is nearer to the terminus of the Los Angeles River.

A family plays at the beach as crews continue to anchor down the new aquatic playground at Alamitos Beach in Long Beach Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

A spokesperson with the Public Works department said officials closely monitor water quality and will close the beach if the water is not healthy, which typically happens when it rains.

From June 1 to June 20, the area of Fifth Place and Ocean Boulevard had 12 good days of water quality and eight days of poor water quality, according to Heal the Bay, which tracks water quality throughout the state.

The days of poor water coincided with recent rains in the area last week. It is not clear how Wednesday’s wet weather will affect the grand opening on Saturday.

Manning these water-park-like structures will also pose a new challenge for local lifeguards. Safeguarding the structures is something Long Beach lifeguards have had to adjust to, said Gonzalo Medina, the city’s marine safety chief.

In 2020 and 2021, Long Beach lifeguards made 1,201 rescues in the Bay Shore area where the current Wibit is located. In those same two years, lifeguards made 1,433 rescues in the East Beach area (from Belmont Pier to 72nd Place) and 1,515 rescues in the West Beach area from the pier to Downtown, where the new structure is located.

“We’ve got a good system for managing these,” Medina said of the water structures. “We’ve devoted a lot of staff time to it.”

For one, lifeguards ensure that people are proficient enough swimmers to get to the structure on their own. And the new structure at Fifth Place will be anchored a ways from shore, about 100 yards depending on the tide, partly so the water is deep enough for jumping and diving, Medina said.

The new structure will be manned by a rotating staff of eight lifeguards, some on paddleboards and others on a lifeguard dory, which is a small wooden boat that offers some stability in the open ocean.

Most of the seasonal lifeguards hired for the summer will be working 40 hours, possibly more, to ensure all the lifeguard stations and waterpark structures are staffed, Medina said.

“Our guards were very open to the idea (of these floating structures),” he said. “There’s nothing greater for a lifeguard than bringing more people to the water.”

The opening celebration is at 1 p.m. Saturday on the shoreline between Fifth and Sixth places, east of Shoreline Drive. 

The Wibit will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until the end of the summer season. Children under the age of 14 must be supervised when playing on the structure.

Melissa Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-512-6354.