Calvin Stevens Jr., a new parking attendant, rode his Segue up on the seawall. As he went through his normal routine of helping people park, answering questions about the island, and serving generally as a tourist ambassador he noticed something out of the ordinary. Looking down at the 53rd street groin, he noticed a young man inside the no-swimming area.

Calvin is new to the job but he’s no stranger to Galveston or the beach. His Father, Calvin Stevens Sr. has worked with me in the Park Board system since the late 80’s. He works as a supervisor in the Coastal Zone Management Department. He is very conscientious and serious about his work. Apparently this rubbed off on his son as well.

Calvin Stevens Jr. impressed me at a recent training we put together for “De-escalation and Self Defense Techniques”. I helped the world renowned Grand Master Ishmael Robles teach this course and noticed that Calvin was really focused and serious while still enjoying himself.

As Calvin saw the young man in the no swimming area he waved and yelled telling him not to go any deeper because it was dangerous and pointed at the signs the guy had walked around. The guy heard him but turned around and waded out into the water anyway. Calvin quickly called his Supervisor and told him to call Beach Patrol on the radio. As soon as the guy started walking deeper than his waist he dropped into the hole by the groin and was quickly carried out by the rip current. He struggled briefly then submerged.

Our rescue truck was only 4 blocks away and pulled up within seconds. They saw the guy collapsed on the shoreline. He had drifted out and around the groin and back to shore. He was laying there having trouble breathing and vomiting repeatedly. Our crew stabilized him and got him quickly into an ambulance. He survived and was released from the hospital the next morning.

Calvin has no responsibility to watch the water. He’s definitely busy enough dealing with the hundreds of tourists he comes in contact with each day. But he paid attention when we mentioned the issues with rip currents we have along the seawall. And he was alert and conscientious enough to notice the problem and do something about it.

One thing we’ve been trying to focus on in the Park Board is cross training and increasing communication between departments with the goal of creating a broader network of support for tourists and locals alike. Beach Patrol now teaches all parking attendants, park staff and others first aid and CPR. Along with that we cover topics like how to spot people in trouble and what to do. This de-escalation/self defense course was a trial that we want to repeat with the park staff. And now we are scheduling park staff to join for the rip current presentation of our upcoming Wave Watchers community program.

With people like Calvin Stevens this type of teamwork is a natural fit.  What a great person to represent Galveston!

Spring break Sand

If you’ve braved the seawall during Spring Break you’ve seen the beach getting bigger and bigger. It seems like every time I drive by they’ve made real progress. What a great deal for Galveston!

There will be a re-adjustment period as the sand settles into a natural state. The grain size of sand determines its slope. Beaches with big grains have a pretty severe inclination and those with smaller grains drop off more gradually. So those beaches you go to on the upper east coast or most places out west that have a big shore break (large waves breaking very close to the beach) would have big, chunky grains of sand. We have a fairly small grain size so it’s understandable that someone 20 yards from shore could be in waist deep water. This will also affect what occurs a short time after the new sand is placed. As the grains form a sort of lattice the beach goes from fairly level to having more of a slope. Most of the sand will still be there but the shoreline will appear to move closer to the seawall, then stabilize.

This new sand affects surfing slightly and has a fairly significant, though temporary, impact on water safety. Most of this is due to it essentially making the groins shorter.

Surfers will generally have to move out past the groin, meaning they no longer have the protection of the rocks and aren’t able to use the rip currents as sort of “free ride” to the outside break. Also the groins create really nice sand bars near the end for surfing. There will be a new sand bar forming farther out, but it will take awhile until the sand readjusts. This means mushy waves for awhile.

For the guards the shorter groins means that the lateral current, which runs parallel to the shoreline, won’t have as much to block it. It will run faster without as many obstructions. This means that people will drift to the rocks faster and more consistently. The rip currents are also stronger near the shore which will affect smaller people swimming closer to shore, like children.

Our guards will have to be even more pro-active than usual. They’ll have to keep people farther from the groins and the rips that occur near them. They’ll have to move faster when they get out of their towers to match the speed of people drifting. And they’ll have to watch for the effects of a steeper drop off, which includes deeper water closer to shore and a higher chance of rip currents in areas away from the groins.

You can keep yourself and others safe by staying extra far from the rocks and maintaining that distance. Stay closer to shore than normal and check with the lifeguard when you go to the beach to see if there are specific hazards in that area.

It won’t take long for the sand to shift into its natural state, but it’s always a good idea to swim near a lifeguard.

Salute to Officer Chris Sanderson

As I drove down the row of towers checking on the guards I heard some static and voices. Looking up I saw Chris Sanderson’s silly grin looking down at me. “Chris” I said, “you wouldn’t happen to have  that police scanner up there again would you?”

Chris was with the Beach Patrol in one way or another for many years. He was hard headed, but he never got in too much trouble because he did a great job and somehow that lopsided smile seemed to keep his supervisors from taking it to the next level.

Tuesday at his funeral there were similar stories from his supervisors and buddies at the police department. There were stories about wrestling an alligator after he was told not to do it, putting duct tape over his chemo drip tube on his chest so he could go dive with the dive team, and worse. That stubborn, but amicable attitude may have been a big part of how he survived for 8 years battling stage 4 cancer. May have been a part of how he lived to 31 instead of dying several times earlier when his prognosis looked grim.

But it wasn’t just that. Chris was one of those magic people who committed. There’s a common understanding among big wave surfers that once you commit you have to be all in. Your life depends on it. Chris wasn’t a big wave surfer, but he could have been. He could have done anything he set his mind to.

From what I can tell he committed himself fully to three things. Galveston was his home, his culture, his love. He wasn’t one of those kids that wants to leave and doesn’t appreciate it until later. He was all in. Same thing for his job. He was 100% committed to the Galveston Police Department. He applied his swimming and lifeguarding background to the Marine Division and Dive Team. He was a K9 Officer. And much more. But nothing was done halfway. Ever. And he was completely committed to his family. Many stories Tuesday were about how he didn’t have friends. Only family. He would do anything for his family and his definition of family was all encompassing. If you know his real family you’ll understand why. They love him hard and he grew up with support from a lot of people.

I used to really enjoy talking with Chris. He’d sit in his patrol car with sunken eyes and that drip tube sticking out of his chest and talk about how great things are. I’m still in awe.

But the main reason I’ll never forget Chris, why he will always be my hero, is because he made the choice every day to live for his commitments. That’s why he got out of bed and put that uniform on when most of us would have rolled over and given up. That’s why there’s a part of him in so many of us whose lives he touched. Why he’s embedded in the very fabric of this island.

Wave Watchers

The Beach Patrol has been fortunate for many, many years to have great support from the community and county. We are so lucky that the hard work our guards do is recognized and appreciated and we recognize that that is something we continually need to strive to maintain. That’s a big part of why we have so many programs that tie to the community in which we are imbedded, such as the Jesse Tree/Beach Patrol Survivor Support Network, our Junior Lifeguard Program, being designated as a “Safe Place” for kids, our School Outreach Program, At Risk Kids Camps, and more. This year we are starting two new programs that we’re very, very excited about and I hope that many of you will participate in. These are the “Senior Seaside Strolls” (a topic for a later column), and our new “Wave Watcher Program”.

The Galveston Island Beach Patrol Wave Watcher Volunteer Program is a way for ordinary citizens to join our team. It’s a mini lifeguard academy for that is free of charge and that will serve as a force multiplier in our effort to prevent drowning deaths and aquatic accidents.

The Wave Watcher academy will run from March 27th-30th and will meet here at our headquarters from 8-12 each day. The first day will cover topics related to Beach Patrol history and operations, rip currents and general beach safety, “Code X” (witnessed drowning) procedures, victim recognition, and municipal ordinances related to the beach and water front. The second day will be dedicated to first aid and CPR specially tailored to the beach environment. The third will focus on tourist ambassador certification (CTA Training). Finally, on the fourth day, we’ll do a site by site visit of the “hot spots” for water safety and discuss in detail how our Wave Watchers can integrate into our operations.

Once through the academy Wave Watchers will be able to volunteer for various duties if they desire. They are able to help with our LCD (Lost Child Detail) on holidays, join us for special events and competitions, or assist with large scale emergencies. Most importantly they will form a cadre of informed beach goers who have “the eye”, so are able to spot trouble developing before it happens and notify us or other emergency service groups, so we are able to prevent the situation from escalating. This could happen in the course of their normal daily lives when they drive, walk, fish, surf, etc. along the beachfront. Or it could take place with a more organized activity. The level of commitment and involvement will be completely up to the graduates.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the crew contact Supervisor Dain Buck at or 713-818-8347. The class will cap at 20 and will be first come first serve. There are no restrictions on who can participate and no physical requirement (like swimming, running, etc). Everyone is welcome.

I hope you will join us for a fun way to support a great cause!