Bruce Hopkins

On duty: Bruce Hopkins will work this Christmas. Photo: Nick Moir

The memory of a sea of Santa hats bobbing up and down on Bondi's waves - some attached to their often-drunk owners - now seems amusing to Bondi's head lifeguard.

Bruce Hopkins, who has worked every Christmas for 22 years, said Christmas at the beach before alcohol was banned wasn't so amusing at the time.

''There were times back then when all you'd see was a sea of Santa hats with bodies underneath. Some would be on [swimmers'] heads, others would be floating off. And we used to see the Poms coming down the hill with cases of beer on their shoulders.''

One Christmas, his team of lifeguards rescued 100 people.

''Christmas Day is more controlled at the beach now,'' he said. While people can still get drunk at home and then visit the beach, banning alcohol from the beach on Christmas Day meant fewer drunks who needed rescuing.

Because he will be working from noon on Christmas Day to 7pm, the 45-year-old lifeguard celebrated Christmas on Friday night with his family.

On Christmas Day, he spends the morning with his two children, 15 and 11, before his shift starts at the busiest Sydney beach at the busiest time of year.

There will be turkey for lunch, thanks to the production crew of Bondi Rescue, which is filming ''Hoppo'' and his crew throughout the holiday period.

If it is a nice day, more than 30,000 to 40,000 visitors could hit the beach. If it is very hot, as many as 50,000 could visit.

"Sometimes you feel like you missed out a little bit,'' Mr Hopkins said. ''It would be nice to have a Christmas where you can have a few beers and not worry and kick back with family. But I've been doing it for so long, I don't really know any different.''

Julie Power