Winter Is Here

Water temperature in the 50’s is a game changer. Even our hard core surfers don’t last long with the 3 millimeter wetsuits most Texans wear, and the only swimmers we encounter seem to be Russian or Canadian.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and got to spend time with people they care about. This is always a great time to reflect on things we’re grateful for. I personally feel really appreciative of the hard work our staff did this season, the support of all the groups we work with and the community of Galveston, and the chance to slow down for a bit, recharge the batteries, and fill in some details that we couldn’t get to during the busy season.

We’re almost at the end of our patrol season with this weekend being the last where we’re proactively out there checking the beaches for a while. Most of our crew has been working hard refurbishing our 28 lifeguard towers while alternating the days they take a patrol shift. They’ve also been doing one last pass of replacement and repair of the 300 or so signs we maintain along 33 miles of beachfront. But starting December 1st everyone will focus on finishing the towers up so they can spend the remaining time until everyone is able to work on individual projects.

Each of our full time supervisors has an area of responsibility that they take full charge of. There is a window of time from late December until March 1st when they have time to get the bulk of this work done. Some of the areas are board and craft repair/maintenance, website upgrades, virtual lifeguard museum, recruiting/water safety video projects, policy and procedure manual updates, training material preparation, and ordering supplies and equipment.

One major change we are trying to make is to move to an almost completely paperless system. We recently purchased computers for each vehicle so reports can be done while overseeing a zone of responsibility. We’re getting close to purchasing an electronic records management system for storage and easy retrieval of reports and other documents. My hope is that by 2016 we can operate with 90% digital files and documents.

There’s an upcoming event that I wanted to mention. We’ll follow up with more details, but the annual public safety Christmas parade is scheduled for Saturday, December 13th in the morning. This event has been growing and has been a fun X-mas holiday kick off. It’s been a nice way for first responders from different agencies to show our community how appreciative we are for the support we receive. Also it’s an opportunity for the community to show support for everything these hard working public safety organizations’ men and women do.

From all of us at the Galveston Beach Patrol we hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. Hopefully you’ll have the time and opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the things and people that are most important to you.

Aloha Doc

As a wide eyed 16 year old surfer, I made my first pilgrimage to the west coast in 1980. I flew into LAX and hitchhiked down the California coast while camping, absorbing the west coast lifestyle of the day, and surfing at all the famous spots I’d read about in the magazines. During that trip I was fortunate (or destined) to meet one of the biggest heroes in lifesaving, surfing, and Galveston history.

I was sitting on the beach at San Onofre after surfing the morning at Trestles, which is just south of San Clemente. An older man came up and started talking to me. Normally while traveling alone you’d be a little wary about strangers but there was something in this guy’s demeanor that caused me to instantly trust him. He was soft spoken and unassuming but had a real presence. We fell into an easy conversation, and he was excited that I was from Galveston like him. He invited me to eat with his family. Turns out, his family was huge and ran a surf school right there on the beach, where they seemed to be permanently camping. One was nicer than the other, and only later would I realize I was meeting a whole tribe of living legends. The surf school was the world renowned Paskowitz Surfing Camp.

Surfing, Lifesaving, and Galveston lost one of its greatest legends recently with the passing of Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, who was the elderly gentleman who’d sensed my loneliness and been so kind to me.

Born the son of Russian and Jewish immigrants on March 1921 right here in Galveston, Doc rode his first wave at age 12 and never stopped surfing throughout his long life. As a young teen he moved to San Diego where he worked as a lifeguard at Mission Beach. In 1946 he graduated at Stanford Medical School and eventually made his way to Israel with the mission of trying to get “Jews and Arabs to surf together”. Kelly Slater, who is touted as the greatest surfer to ever live, said that Doc “…believed that those who surfed together could live together peacefully”.

After coming back to California he practiced what many believe is the true spirit of surfing and lived with his wife and all nine of his kids in a large surf van for many years. He was a big believer in a healthy lifestyle and touted that throughout his medical career and his commitment to the traditional surfers’ lifestyle of living simply, exercising regularly, and eating well. He once said that “Health is a presence of a superior state of wellbeing, a vigor, a vitality, a pizzazz you have to work for every single day of your life.” He put belief into practice by founding the Paskowitz International Surf School, the Paskowitz surfing Psychiatric Clinic, the Paskowitz Surfing Camp and Surfing for Peace.

“It is easier to die when you have lived than it is to die when you haven’t” – Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz

 

 

Low Profile

One of the most interesting of our 111 guards is Jeff Lewis, who has been with the Beach Patrol for 20 years and works part time as a seasonal Supervisor.

I like having Jeff on staff for many reasons. He’s a very competent, professional, and experienced lifeguard. But he’s also someone who is a great role model for the younger guards. Jeff runs both several Nationwide Insurance offices and several Century 21 offices in the Clear Lake Area.  He is also an extremely good triathlete who competes periodically in full Ironman races where he trains to swim 2 miles, bike over 100 miles, and run a full marathon continuously. But he loves lifeguarding and still manages to find the time to keep up his certifications, and work 2-3 days a week throughout the summer.

Imagine being a 16 year old and working your first job. As you drag yourself in to work and whine about having to do an hour of physical and skills training at the beginning of every shift to keep your competency up, you notice Jeff and a small group who showed up a couple of hours before the shift even started and did a full hour and a half of running, swimming, and paddling a rescue board. Then Jeff, who hit the 40 year mark recently, jumps in with the shift workout and blasts past all of the young high school team swimmers without breaking a sweat. And he rearranged his busy, busy life just so he can come do the same job because despite all the other things he has going on, there’s nothing quite as fulfilling as mentoring younger guards and keeping beach patrons safe for Jeff.

Jeff has an identical twin brother Greg. They worked Beach Patrol while running track at Rice University. They were young back then, but are small and looked (and still look) much younger. Because they were such amazing athletes they qualified to represent Texas in the National Lifeguard Championships in Cape May, New Jersey. “Team Texas” was sitting a diner eating breakfast the day before the competition started. Jeff and Greg were sitting together peering over the top of the table when a cute waitress came by to take our order. The diner was busy so she was in a hurry. Greg decided to lay down his “Mac” vibe and started trying to chat her up. When he inevitably said he was a national competitor she kind of snickered, obviously not believing him saying “REEEALLY?” Greg, without missing a beat, quipped, “We like to keep a low profile in Texas”. To this day Jeff and I while training will toss out that line and almost bust a gut.

But my favorite Jeff story is once while he and I were doing a race he pulled a leg muscle and barely finished. At the finish line Greg called and asked what happened to Jeff’s leg. Greg’s leg had a searing pain in the same spot. Greg lives 4 states away and didn’t even know Jeff was racing that day.

 

Frat Story

The freshman sat in his dorm room on the bed as the 3 older guys formed a semi-circle around him. They all wore khaki pleated pants, button-up shirts tucked in, topsiders, and neatly parted hair; contrasting sharply with the surf shirt, baggy shorts, scruffy hair, and flip flops that the younger guy wore.

“You can’t survive on this campus….” Said the leader in an overly deep voice “…without joining a fraternity. (Long pause here for emphasis). ….And the Chi Delts is the most respected frat on campus. We have the pick of the crop, the best parties, and you’ll come out of college with the most useful connections”. The younger guy laughed and looked up at them and said, “If I choose to join a frat I’ll consider you guys, but right now I’ve got some stuff I need to do”. The older guys looked shocked. One said something about how the younger guy would regret not going to the mixer with them and they filed out to round up other recruits.

The thing is that the young guy grew up in Galveston. And for those of you that grew up here you know what I mean. Kids that come from this environment have a very different set of experiences. Galveston has a long, long history of diversity, tolerance, and worldliness. He had grown up with big beach bonfires, high school fraternities and sororities, exposure to all kinds of different people, friends that were from varied backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and religions.

Most of all, he and his peers had grown up on and around the beach. From beach bonfires on the weekends, surfing, mixing socially with friends’ parents, to long bike rides along the seawall hanging out with all kinds of characters.

For better or worse, kids grow up fast here, but the good thing is that when they leave, they have social tools that other kids don’t have at the same age. They also have a strong core and basic sense of fairness that shines through. You can always recognize who’s from here even if you don’t know them.

Galveston is in a real transitional phase right now. This is normal for a city of this age as power transitions to some extent from dynasties to newer immigrants. New blood and a fresh point of view is a good thing, especially if old values are retained and the end product is a fusion of what’s good in both groups and change is not merely made for its own sake. There is room and need for both camps.

So the conclusion of this story is that the young man did not join the fraternity. But he did end up being friends with many of the fraternity members along with friendships he cultivated in a variety of groups. As a Galvestonian he wasn’t able to limit himself to one type of friends. But thanks to his Galveston roots he was able to look past differences and focus on commonalities.

The Galveston Way.