Help Artist Boat restore a dune destroyed by Ike this weekend! They’re looking for volunteers who would like to participate in our dune planting events this Saturday, February 21st, from 9:45 AM-2:30 PM and Sunday, February 22nd, from 12:45-5:30 PM. Please contact Nate Johnson at (409) 770-0722 or at email@example.com to register for an event!
It was a small, but deeply meaningful thing.
The other morning it was cold, windy, rainy and overcast, but there were some nice little waves breaking. It was early as I grabbed my board and paddled out at 37th street.
As I used the rip current to paddle out, I noticed our rescue buoy box was open and the ring buoy was laying on the rocks with the rope spread out all over. These boxes are invaluable and we document at least 15 rescues a season by fishermen or bystanders who throw the ring buoy out to a person in distress without having to endanger themselves by going in the water after the victim. I made a mental note that when I finished I would pick up the buoy, stuff the rope back in its throw bag, stick it back in the box, and latch it closed so it would be ready if someone needed it.
After awhile a couple of other guards joined me before their shift. Between sets of waves we chatted about how cold it was. It was in the 40s with a strong north east wind and drizzling. Pretty miserable.
We saw our “on call” unit coming down the seawall and stop to put out the condition advisory flag on the sign up on the seawall at 37th street. The “on call” unit is the person and vehicle assigned to answer any 911 calls during the night. We rotate this job each night so anytime during the year, day or night, we are available to help if a water emergency comes up. Supervisor/Officer Josh Hale was finishing up his on call shift by putting out the daily flags. It was so cold and miserable that we all decided that Josh would either not notice the buoy on the rocks or would act like he didn’t see it. We realized we were wrong when we saw Josh trudge out through the rain and wind wearing his big red coat. He carefully put the rope back in the bag and set the whole thing back in the box, waved at us, and walked back to his truck and drove down the beach.
I later found out that this was not for show. Every day when Josh puts the flags out he double checks each of the buoy boxes and makes sure they are stocked and ready to go. Josh, like most of the Beach Patrol lifeguards has seen enough of what can go wrong to be motivated to do whatever he can to keep bad things from happening. He doesn’t do it to please me or anyone else. He goes the extra mile because he believes in what we do and knows little proactive actions like this save lives.
Josh is not alone. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by many others who do thousands of unrewarded, quiet actions to keep organization running well. The combined result of these small things keep thousands from injury or death each year.
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
With Labor Day upon us we’re expecting several hundred thousand people to be on the island this weekend. That’s a lot of chances to have something go wrong.
Over the past couple of weeks there have been several rescues that we’ve had to make by the rock jetties despite our best efforts to keep people far enough away to avoid trouble. There have also been a couple of incidents involving young children in area pools that nearly drowned and two men drowned in the San Luis Pass area while boating from the Brazoria County side. Most or all of these incidents happened at least partly due to momentary lapses in judgment.
People do things when on vacation or out recreating that they would never do in their normal life. Parents who no doubt are very attentive to their children lose them repeatedly at our large beach parks. We can have up to 60 lost kids in a single day at Stewart Beach alone. People who are not generally risk takers swim far from shore and/or pay no attention to warning signs, flags, or lifeguard instructions. Are the parents bad parents? Are the people ignoring safety messages intentionally? Not in my opinion.
All of us get in a different mindset when we’re away from our routine and when we do something fun. We throw caution to the wind and immerse ourselves in the sea and sand and fun. This is good to a point and that point is sometimes the shoreline. Water is not our natural element. Things can go wrong quickly in the water so it only takes a momentary lapse of judgment or seconds of inattention for things to break bad.
But is doesn’t have to be that way. Taking a moment to observe your surroundings at the beach or pool does a lot. Asking someone who is knowledgeable, like a lifeguard, what to watch for before getting wet means that you greatly reduce your chances of an accident.
When you go out this weekend to enjoy any type of water remember to take a minute to be aware of your surroundings and potential risk. You also want to remember the basics like not swimming alone, staying hydrated, protecting yourself from the sun, observing signs and flags, feet first first time, alcohol and water don’t mix, and non-swimmers and children should wear lifejackets. At the beach, you should also avoid swimming in areas where rip currents are likely, like near piers and jetties. These are protected by lifeguards and clearly marked with bilingual, iconic signage.
Choose to swim in areas protected by lifeguards. In beaches guarded by United States Lifesaving Association lifeguards, like Galveston, your chances of drowning are 1 in 18 million.
But above all, YOU are responsible for the safety of both yourself and your family. Lifeguards provide an extra layer of protection in case your safety net lapses temporarily.
Enjoy the Labor Day weekend. You deserve it. See you on the beach!
Late summer brings some real significant changes to the beachfront that can impact what you need to do to stay safe. In spring and Early to mid-summer we are almost overwhelmingly concerned with rip currents and keeping people out of them. As we move into hotter weather and calmer water conditions other concerns come into play as well. With a few safety precautions you can avoid most or all of these.
To be clear, rip currents are the primary safety concern on the beach year round. The current running perpendicular to shore that is generally found near the rock groins is a constant hazard. It pulls offshore and takes sand with it leaving a trough. Even on the calmest of days you want to avoid swimming or wading near structures that stick out into the water, obey warning signs, and swim near a lifeguard that will remind you if you slip up. If caught in a rip, stay calm, call or wave for help, and just float. If you’re a good swimmer, swim parallel to shore until you get out of the rip current and then to shore. If someone else is caught in one don’t go in after them. Call 911 or signal a guard, throw a float or rope and/or extend a reaching object to them.
But now that we’re in a calmer weather pattern and the heat has hit be sure and take precautions for the heat and sun. Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing, apply sunscreen with a high SPF rating, wear protective glasses with a high UVA and UVB protection, drink plenty of fluid, and seek shade periodically. If you feel weak, dizzy, or disoriented and have paler than normal, clammy skin you may be suffering from heat exhaustion. Get cool and out of the sun, drink fluids, and self-monitor. If left unchecked this can lead to heat stroke, which is an extreme emergency. If you stop sweating and have hot, dry skin and a reduced level of consciousness it’s critical that you cool down and get to a hospital as soon as possible.
When the water gets calm lots of critters can move closer to shore unmolested by heavy wave action. We’ve seen a drastic increase in stingray hits the past couple of weeks, including a couple of lifeguards. The barbs are loaded with nastiness and usually break off under the skin causing certain infection. Treatment is lots of heat on the puncture site which alleviates the pain rapidly. You should always seek medical care so they can check if there’s a broken off piece of the barb in there and start you on a course of antibiotics. The good thing about stingrays is that they’re easily avoided. Shuffling your feet when in shallow water lets sting rays and a bunch of other critters know you’re in the area so they can make a quick getaway. After all, if some giant, weird looking creature tried to step on you, wouldn’t you fight back however you could?
For a downloadable version of the brochure, click here.
Ben Carlson, a 32 year old lifeguard from Newport Beach went out on a fairly routine rescue last week just off Balboa Peninsula. He jumped off the back of a rescue boat and made contact with his victim just as a big set of waves hit both men in the impact zone.
Ben was a very experienced waterman. He competed in beach lifeguard events regularly, was a big wave surfer, and a high level college swimmer. He was one of the top athletes that worked for Newport Beach, which is in the epicenter of USLA lifesaving talent. Throughout his decade and a half career he made several hundred rescues.
The waves were reportedly 6-8 foot, which means the wave that hit him likely had a 12 foot face. Other lifeguards were able to rescue the victim when he surfaced, but Ben didn’t come back up. Any water rescue is very risky. One small thing like getting poked in the neck or choking on water can mean the difference between the rescuer surviving or not making it. But with that much water moving around there’s a million ways that rescue could have gone wrong.
One of my best friends is Rob Williams, who is Chief of the Newport Beach lifeguard service. We’ve known each other for years through the United States Lifesaving Association. Currently he is the Treasurer and I’m the Vice President. He, their Beach Patrol, and the community is going though one of the worst things that can happen to a group- the loss of a hero. From the sound of it Ben was everything you’d want in someone to represent your community. I hope we never have to go through that here. Rob and I have had several conversations about the inherent risks of the job, how many people our beaches deal with annually and the odds of something like this happening.
Lifeguards from all over California, surfers from the region, Ben’s family and friends, and many others participated in a traditional “paddle out” ceremony last Sunday. This is a way for surfers, lifeguards, and other water people to celebrate the life of a fallen comrade. Some say its origins come from ancient Hawaiian culture, but most historians believe it has its roots just after the turn of the 20th century. Wherever it came from it is practiced all over the world where there are beaches. It usually involves people paddling out on a surfboard or other craft, forming a circle, telling stories, and putting flowers in the center. Sometimes ashes are put in the water. The ceremony can be religious or secular in nature.
Ben’s paddle out was exceptional. According to the LA Times 5,000 people watched from the pier and shore and there were approximately 2,500 people in the water. There’s a really well done video that’s worth a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEpHEaGQUUI&feature=youtu.be . This may be the largest paddle out ceremony in known history.
There is no more fitting way to say good bye to a water person.
If you’re like several hundred thousand others, you’ll be heading to the beaches on or near Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula this weekend. For many, the beach is a perfect place to spend time with your friends and family while you enjoy some Texas or Tejano style BBQ, surf, and sand. Some 3-500 thousand people will likely be on the island this weekend and we would all really like to see all of them get home safely. There are several ways to do that.
The main thing is to swim near a lifeguard. You chances of drowning in an area protected by guards trained to the minimum standards set by the United States Lifesaving Association are 1 in 18 million. The Galveston Island Beach Patrol is certified as an “Advanced” agency by this group, which is their highest level. You are responsible for your own safety but guards provide a valuable additional layer of protection.
Rip currents are the cause of 80% of rescues made in the surf. In Texas the strongest rip currents are found near structures like rock groins and piers. That’s why on the seawall the guard towers are near the groin and why we put signs and ropes in the area. Stay away from the rocks and while swimming check the shoreline to make sure you’re not drifting near them without realizing it.
The ends of the island are very dangerous with strong periodic tidal flows. You should not swim or wade in the areas of the San Luis Pass and the Houston Ship Channel. Both ends of the island have a long history of drownings. Both ends are now heavily patrolled but it only takes a few seconds for tragedy to strike.
Now that the Texas heat is on us be sure and take extra precautions for the heat and sun. Use sunscreen with a high SPF, wear protective clothing and sunglasses, and stay hydrated. If you start feeling nauseous, weak, or dizzy you could be feeling the effects of the sun and should rehydrate and seek shade.
Be sure you keep your kids in sight and get in the water with small kids or kids that are poor swimmers. Stay close to shore. Strong currents all week mean there are deep troughs near the shore so be extra careful.
In case you haven’t heard, most of the Caribbean and Gulf has been heavily impacted by Sargassum. The Park Board maintenance department has been working unbelievable hours to keep the beaches looking nice. Stewart Beach, East Beach, and the Seawall are the most clear. Over the weekend the Galveston Park Board is sponsoring beach “Bucket Brigades” where kids can join a tour led by marine biologists to learn about the environmental benefits of seaweed and how it is a habitat for marine life. Look for our beach volunteers wearing bright orange t-shirts while out on the beach or visit www.galvestonbeachinfo.com.
Well be out in force, so check with the guard when you arrive for specific information and have fun!
Oil Spill Cleanup Efforts
For updates on the entire scope of the Texas City “Y” Oil Spill, a website has been created where press releases are being posted. For the most current information, visit http://www.texascityyresponse.com.
Weekend Beach Forecast
While some oil remains on the east end of Galveston Island and Sea Wolf Park area of Pelican Island, clean-up efforts are making progress and environmental testing approved by Unified Command indicates that oil-related compounds are not present at levels that would pose a human health-concern. The beaches along the Gulf are open as usual! Check out the Final Galveston and SeaWolf Park Statement for more information.
The health department has released a public health statement in relation to the oil spill and precautions people should take if they come in contact with oil.
To see live, real-time video fo the beaches, visit: www.galveston.com/webcams
Birds Impacted by Spill
The impact of the spill on birds and wildlife in the Galveston Bay area has been tragic, however we are happy to report that Wildlife Response Services is working very diligently to clean and care for the animals they’ve been able to capture, having saved many of them. Assessment crews are out scanning the coast and are reporting any oiled birds or other wildlife to Wildlife Response Services, which is then taking the animals to its rehabilitation center to clean and care for them. The public is reminded to refrain from capturing any potentially affected wildlife and is urged to contact 1-(888)-384-2000 if oiled wildlife is observed. Reporting photos of wildlife can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Galveston County Health Department released a Galveston Bay Oil Spill Public Health Statement. Please read by clicking the link below:
Important Contact Numbers
Wildlife Response Services
If you encounter wildlife that has been in contact with oil, please contact the Wildlife Response Services number listed above.
Joint Information Center
A claims number has been established for persons or businesses that may be impacted by the oil spill incident.
Beach Patrol Dispatch
Last Monday night around 7pm a 911 call came through the city dispatch of someone jumping off of the causeway. We responded along with the Fire, Police, and EMS. Josh Hale joined the “unified command” on top of the causeway while Kara Harrison and Kris Pompa launched our boat and searched under the bridge with spotlights and sonar. Fortunately it was a false alarm.
People attempting suicide by jumping off of the causeway or swimming out into the ocean are not uncommon and we work several of these cases each year. People that are in this type of mental state are, obviously, not thinking rationally. But there is often this sort of romanticized version of ending your life in the ocean. The ocean brings many of us peace. I assume this must be in the back of peoples’ minds when they start driving south on I-45. Or maybe we’re just at the end of the road.
Dealing with people who are in an unstable state of mind is very dangerous for emergency responders. Add water and that danger increases exponentially. It’s an easy thing for a would-be rescuer to drown because they were incapacitated by a blow to the neck or elsewhere. Peace officers can’t use their normal tools of the trade while submerged. For that reason we take these calls seriously and try to take precautions like approaching in a group or not entering the water unless it’s a truly life threatening emergency.
That said, a large percentage of these cases change their minds pretty quickly when they hit the water which changes the situation into a potential rescue.
A huge factor in winter rescue work is that of potential hypothermia. Web MD defines hypothermia as “…a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.” Medically speaking, hypothermia starts when your core temperature drops below 95 and is defined as “severe” at or below 86. The reason it’s such an issue for us is because people can become disoriented and make bad choices pretty early on in the process.
The year round Beach Patrol staff is equipped with wetsuits and train regularly in cold water. We don’t want to become victims ourselves. We know our limits and make sure we are prepared when we enter the water. Most people don’t. Hypothermia occurs even in mild conditions. We often see mild hypothermia in the summer. Basically it’s just a matter of how much heat escapes your body and how rapidly. Factors that affect when an individual will become hypothermic are a person’s age, body mass, body fat, overall health, and length of time exposed to cold temperatures. About 90% of heat loss is from your skin and the rest occurs when you exhale. Water greatly accelerates the process.
No matter the time of year it’s important that you self-monitor. If you start to shiver, that’s your body trying to maintain its core temp.
Time to make a good choice. Warm up and dry off!
*Image courtesy of the 9th Coast Guard District’s Blog