Sand Project

Have you been to the western edge of the seawall? If not, swing by and check it out. As you look west you’ll see… a big new beach!

This project, the first and smallest of three scheduled to happen this year, has completed 80,000 of the planned 118,000 cubic yards of sand planned. It’s a vulnerable area with the fastest eroding beach on the island. Among other things and for obvious reasons, it’s the first area our Emergency Operation Center worries about during times of flooding from high tides.

The parts of the project that relate to ensuring we get beach quality sand placed with a minimal margin of error are interesting. Sand sources are permitted through the US Army Corp of Engineers and are subject to a rigorous review which includes input from various regulatory agencies, including US Fish and Wildlife, Texas General Land Office, US Army Corp of Engineers, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and others.

The sand is being dredged from the bay side of the island and is being moved to the site by trucks, where it is then piped to a specific location.  As is typical in a dredge project, a bit of other material has ended on the beach.  Monitors have been placed on each end of the pipeline and debris is being removed as it becomes apparent.  Teams are reviewing the beach daily and collecting any debris that escapes the monitoring process.

Although all the sand placed on the beach will eventually no longer be easily evident, a significant portion will remain visible. The rest migrates out to the area of the third sandbar and sits in about 10 feet of water. Many of you will remember back in the mid 90’s when we did that giant nourishment project on the seawall. At first the sand was all the way out to the end of the jetties, but eventually settled about a third of the way out. The rest stays near shore and moves around.  This movement of sand contributes to the development of an overall healthy beach and was taken into account in the design for the beach profile.

Eventually the long-shore current moves some sand to other parts of the beach. Beaches are dynamic and evolve over time.  In the winter, sand moves out to near-­shore bars.  The gentle waves of summer then return sand from the bars back to the beach.  Beach nourishment will not stop the shoreline from receding in eroding areas, but it will delay it.  Beach nourishment increases the life span of the shore and prolongs the benefits that beaches bring our island.  Around the country the majority of tourist beach areas are periodically re-nourished because the revenue they bring in and the infrastructure they protect far exceeds the re-nourishment costs .

This project is the beginning of a 50 year sand management plan designed by the Engineering and Research Development Center of the US Army Corp of Engineers and will hopefully mark the beginning of an ongoing, periodic process by which we can protect and maintain our delicate shoreline.

A Small Thing

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.

Snapshot

A sea of hands are raised in the Galveston school while students struggle to keep their bottoms on the gym floor. Supervisor/Officer Kris Pompa surveys the crowd and picks a young man way in the back. “What do you think?” The little boy says, “Lifeguards are there to protect people from sharks and undertoads”. Kris chuckles and says, “Close! But the main reason lifeguards are on the beach is to protect people from dangerous currents when they swim in the water. But we protect people from other things too. We even tell people when they’re starting to get sunburned. We also enforce rules and help kids who get lost find their parents.”

Meanwhile, at a mainland high school, Supervisor Mary Stewart is talking to the swim team about what beach lifeguards do every day. “…. After you finish your morning workout and skills training, you have 45 minutes to check out your flag bag and radio and get to your tower. Once on location you clean the tower, put your flags up and swim the rip current to see how hard it’s running and how deep it is there. Then your main job is to keep people away from the rocks, see if anyone needs help, and do whatever you can to keep people from harm. Every day we train, and on Sundays anyone can enter the weekly competitions. Most of my friends are on Beach Patrol and it’s a great bunch of people. I hope you guys will come try out, most of our guards are either on swim teams or were at one time.”

On the seawall, around 37th street Supervisor/Officer Josh Hale and Supervisor Lauren Hollaway pull over to check on a young surfer that is hanging off the side of his board in the rip current by the jetty. They watch him for a bit to make sure he’s able to get back on his board and paddle back out to the lineup. Turns out he’s OK and they don’t have to jump in the 56 degree water to help him. They drive on to the next cluster of surfers at 27th street while scanning the seawall for any problems or anyone needing a hand.

At headquarters in the garage Supervisor/Officer Joe Cerdas is finishing some work on a new rack system he’s been intermittently working on between other jobs, patrolling, and special activities. Upstairs Captain Tony Pryor is putting the finishing touches on the next employee schedule while Lieutenant Kara Harrison solicits bids for some equipment that needs to be ordered.

This is a snapshot of an average day for the full time staff of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol during the “down season”. Soon we’ll have all 100 of our seasonal workers back and we’ll finish up our annual school water safety talks and recruiting visits. Maintenance and administrative duties continue all year but the focus will be almost completely on the millions of beach patrons that visit the beach each year.

And so it begins!

 

Water and Magic

I was at Moody Gardens with my daughter’s school the other day and I walked through the rain forest pyramid. There is a quote I’ve always loved hanging above entrance by Loren Eiseley -anthropologist and author of The Immense Journey, that read, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

My Mom used to always buy our whole family a season pass to Moody Gardens, a tradition we continue. At first, I used to think she did it because she was friends with both Ann and Bobby Moody. She would do stuff like that a lot. But I realized later that she did it because it was a great place for our family to gather when they’d come home from all the different places they lived. Galveston is lucky to have so many places like that. My daughter and I used to go to the aquarium all the time when she was little and my wife took her to Palm Beach almost every day for several summers in a row.

Like many people here on the island I’ve always felt a close connection to water and to the sea. Years ago, while my family went through some terrible things, I’d lose/find myself for hours and hours surfing or sailing. I didn’t really fix anything, but it gave me a place where our problems seemed more in perspective and offered a connection to something much bigger than our transient existence. As Isak Dinesen says, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”

Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that people with a connection to water found connections with each other as well. There are many famous Texas watermen that demonstrate this. Galveston lifeguard legend Leroy Columbo touched many lives. One of these was Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz who as a child rented surf mats from Columbo. Former lifeguard Babe Schwartz, who needs no introduction, was a huge part in founding the modern Beach Patrol in Galveston. Doc Paskowitz once met Jim Dobbins (one of the first trainers of the Beach Patrol) surfing in California. Doc told Jim that Babe Schwartz once saved his wife’s life.

Doc Paskowitz, a Galveston native, has many famous quotes that are repeated all over the world by surfers and lifeguards. One that fits is, “There is a wisdom in the wave” to which he added, “While just a child, the warm waters of the Gulf Coast of Texas gave me my first chance at that wisdom.”

I’m not sure where in the mix of water and people you find the magic, but in a world where we’re trained to accumulate things and hold on to everything tightly, it’s a place that forces you to let go.

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead you relax and float.” -Alan Watts

 

Puerto Rican Beach Story

Wispy clouds scudded across blue Puerto Rican sky as the woman entered the water to cool off. 10 steps into the water the bottom disappeared. Surprised, she swam to the surface and began to swim back to shore. To her dismay she found herself being pulled out to sea despite her efforts.

The current ran, as it normally does from right to left down the beautiful Puerto Rican beach. As the farthest point on the left side, in front of a beautiful 4 star resort, there was a rock groin and breakwater that extended out into the ocean. Just like in Galveston, there is always a rip current by the rocks.

Suddenly, as the woman was pulled near the rocks, she hit a turbulent area. A wave broke over her head. Coughing and sputtering she made it back to the surface, but she’d choked on some water and found it hard to breathe. Panic gripped her as she realized she couldn’t make it back, and she was disoriented by the rough sea. She thought about her children and husband up in the hotel room. She remembered a load of laundry that she’d left in the dryer back in her New Jersey home, and then wondered why that would occur to her. The realization that she would not survive this event hit her like a punch to the gut. She struggled harder despite having trouble breathing. She quickly tired and felt impossibly heavy. She started slipping under water.

The resort offered all kinds of amenities, but the main draw was that it sits right on a very beautiful beach. The designers and investors thought about every little detail so their guests would have the ultimate experience. Every little detail but one. It sits right in front of a permanent rip current, and rip currents are the cause of 80% of ocean rescues (and likely ocean drownings). They didn’t plan for a beach safety program for their guests. Like many resorts around the world, this one was placed on a beautiful beach without thought to the safety of the beach itself.

Just as the woman slipped beneath the surface strong hands grabbed her. She found herself floating on a ratty old boogie board as a man yelled in Spanish and kicked her back to shore. Upon arriving to safety the man walked off and she sat down numbly. After a time she looked around and saw the man selling coconuts to tourists out of a shopping carts. Behind him under a bench she saw an old sleeping bag.

This beach sees about 10 drownings a year, usually rich tourists. The man selling coconuts averages 5 rescues a day. Partly because of the success of Galveston’s beaches, I’m part of a small team from the United States Lifesaving Association working up a proposal to combine private sector funding with governmental management of a beach patrol there. Until then, our hero, who is 62 years old, will hopefully be hard at work…

 

Image by cogito ergo imago.

Dobbins

The older guard pointed to the west side of the 47th street groin as he pulled the jeep over quickly. “Look at that rip, let’s go check it out!” he yelled as the pair sprinted down the rocks and jumped off a rock that was “just right”. The older guard then made them climb up the rocks again despite the churning surf, algae, and barnacles. Over and over the pair climbed up and jumped back into the surf before getting back in the jeep and racing up and down the seawall moving swimmers and checking on guards.

I worked with Jim Dobbins on weekends during the mid 80’s. The days were full and active. Lunches generally lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of a quick bowl of rice in his beachside apartment. I learned a great deal.

He taught the guards how to work the rocks. In those years a guard worked a groin all summer and Jim knew each rock of each groin. He taught guards where it was “safe” to jump from, and how to move around on the rocks without getting cut up. An avid surfer, he knew the rip currents well, and taught the guards how to use them to get to a victim quickly. He was a ball of energy as he made each guard that worked the seawall swim his/her area each morning so they would know exactly where the holes and currents were for the day (a practice that we continue to this day). He was relentless in stressing the importance of getting to someone before they actually got in trouble.

Dr. Jim Dobbins was an Epidemiologist working as a professor at UTMB in those years. As a teacher, he didn’t like being away from hands on preventative work in his field. With the Beach Patrol he was able to put theory into practice in the direct prevention of injury on Galveston’s beaches. He went on to work for the Center for Disease Control in a research program and later was employed by the World Health Organization. With the W.H.O he was able to once again take a hands-on approach as the guy who was tasked with handling potential infectious disease outbreaks in the Caribbean.

On Jim’s first day of work he responded to 7 people on inner tubes getting pushed into the South Jetty under extreme conditions. He was able to push them through a gap one by one and finally able to get himself through. He was shredded by rocks and exhausted but committed to preventing this type of thing from happening. He devised a strategy where people were kept far from the jetty, which we still employ.

Now in his 70’s Jim visits Galveston periodically. He likes to talk about the old days. But I think he really enjoys seeing how proactive we’ve become as an agency. Many of the techniques we use to keep people from ever getting into trouble today are based on strategies he implemented. After all, prevention is the essence of both Epidemiology and Lifesaving.

 

Dobbins

 

Rescue Theory

A swimmer’s head sits low in the water and his arms flap out to the sides while trying to keep his head up. The lifeguard sees the telltale signs of a swimmer in distress. She immediately kicks into a whole pre-determined plan. She radios for backup, grabs her fins and rescue tube, chooses the proper entry (from sand or rocks), and dolphins through shallow water while unwrapping her tube. Swimming with her head intermittently up to keep sight of the victim, she pauses on the approach, and talks to him as she keeps her buoy between them while extending it. Upon contact, she moves to his rear and buckles the buoy around him, assesses him, signals to shore what his condition is and if she needs help, swims him to the beach while checking intermittently, re-checks him more thoroughly at the shore and renders whatever medical aid is needed. While doing this she prepares to pass all this info on to her supervisor or other first responders.

Making an ocean rescue is a complicated process which requires a great deal of preparation to effect safely. There are a lot of ways this could potentially go sideways, so we spend a large percentage of precious training time on this topic. Obviously there is a lot of physical training required in advance so the body is prepared, but the real keys are the mental aspects. These we break into two general categories, elimination of variables and cognitive flexibility under stress.

Elimination of variables encompasses a whole range of physical, mental, and psychological components. The overarching concept is when you start the rescue process there are a lot of things that need to happen, so you want to make sure you take care of as many of these variables as you can in advance and have fewer unknowns as you enter the rescue scenario. In addition to the areas that are consistent between most rescues, each event is unique and so things will be encountered that that could not be planned for.

When you go into action your body instinctively kicks in a whole range of physiological responses so you can do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do. Time seems to slow down as chemicals are dumped into your blood stream. Depending on your training and history, you can experience a diminished mental capacity while at the same time have an enhanced physical capability. Taking care of as many things as possible in advance is crucial since you may not be at your best mentally during the rescue process. The key components in the concept of elimination of variables are: level of fitness, skills, equipment preparation, and state of readiness.

Level of fitness involves a great deal of physical training that is specific to the actual environment that rescues will be made in. Our guards work out before every shift so they’re intimately familiar with the bottom contour, waves, and currents of that particular day. We also use competition as a means to motivate the entire staff to be at their physical peak during the beach season.

Rescue skills atrophy if not used regularly. Incorporated into our daily pre-shift workouts is a skill component. They may practice CPR, hand signals, components of a rescue, public relations, or handling a lost child. Sports enthusiasts and public safety professionals regularly use the term “muscle memory” to signify repeating something over and over again until you don’t have to consciously think about it. For example you may practice a modification to your swim stroke so many times that you start doing it automatically when you swim. They may be using the term incorrectly in this context, but it makes sense in that it’s almost like your body remembers how to do something without your brain having to tell it. If these skills are kept current through repeated training and practice, they happen almost subconsciously during the rescue process so the rescuers consciousness isn’t spread too thin. He/she can then focus on the weird stuff that inevitably happens, instead of on things that need to happen for every rescue.

Equipment preparedness is integral in the process. There’s nothing worse than having equipment malfunction when trying to save another person. A fairly routine rescue can go horribly wrong when a fin strap breaks or a buoy is wrapped up improperly so the strap doesn’t play out smoothly. There’s a reason fire departments insist that each piece of equipment is maintained and put up the same way each time. When you need that hose or pump, it needs to be easy to get and needs to work. One of the first things the lifeguards learn is how to properly wrap their rescue buoy. Once this is committed to “muscle memory” it’s automatically done the same way each time. Each guard uses the same technique so the buoys are interchangeable if they have to use someone else’s equipment. The same principle applies to oxygen units, personal water craft, rescue vehicles, automatic external defibrillators and any other piece of equipment. If you get in a rescue truck at any point of the day or night the equipment is stored the same way, every piece of equipment works, it’s full of gas, and ready to go. Fewer variables stand between the rescuer and successfully saving a life.

State of readiness is a general concept that basically means the lifeguards come to the job each day prepared mentally, physically, and psychologically. They are able to maintain a state of alertness for their entire shift because they are well rested, hydrated, and wearing the proper gear for sun protection or temperature control. It also implies that they leave their personal problems at home and don’t let any issues they may be having interfere with their work or concentration on duties. It’s better to have an empty tower than a lifeguard who is there physically but who is not focused. The only person who truly can monitor this is the lifeguards themselves, so the expectation is that they will remove themselves from duty if there’s some reason that they can’t focus on the job. Finally, before a lifeguard is able to work a stand, he/she needs to have developed a certain level of confidence in his/her ability to save someone. This is accomplished by all the aforementioned skills and through a belief that they can handle unusual situations on the fly because they are proficient in their ability think creatively under the gun.

Cognitive flexibility under stress, the ability to demonstrate flexibility and creative problem solving strategies under duress, is a little harder concept for the guards to grasp at first. Through repetition neural pathways become more “worn”, much like a foot path that has been traveled more often and therefore becomes easier to use. This is a good thing in that response to a given stimuli becomes automatic, but with the obvious benefits come inherent risks. The potential issue lies in the environment itself. The ocean and beach are in a constant state of flux, as are the beach patrons themselves.  No rescue is routine, as there are a multitude of factors that can affect the process. When in a stressful situation we all have a tendency to default to what we know. That’s good if it means we perform CPR the way we were trained. But you also hear stories about police officers who, in the midst of a shootout, start collecting their empty magazines off of the street because that’s the way they did it when practicing at the range. The goal of teaching people to show “cognitive flexibility” during a rescue or crisis is for them to default to their training while at the same time being able to expand their awareness and come up with creative solutions to problems that pop up while dealing with a multitude of issues.

Understanding this principle helps in the teaching process. In ocean lifeguarding we teach from the top down. Our instructors focus on the overarching principles and teach to trouble shoot application of these principles to a variety of real life scenarios. For example, instead of teaching exactly how to make contact with a victim in the water, we focus on basic principles such as keeping floatation between the rescuer and victims’ bodies, pausing and assessing a safe distance from a victim. That way the concept works when you use other types of floatation and/or in a myriad of specific rescue techniques. Or we may talk about tone of voice as opposed to specific words to say to a victim. Once these general concepts are internalized through training and repetition (muscle memory), the guards become more confident and comfortable in their ability handle anything that is thrown at them.

These concepts and a respect for the power and variability of the ocean are the beginnings of forging competent and professional lifeguards.

Lauren Hollaway

In 1997, six year old Lauren Hollaway started swimming for the Galveston Island Swim Team and 4 years later started as a Galveston Island Beach Patrol Junior Lifeguard along with other future guards Laura Carr, Jessica Riedel, Anna Hyatt, Bori Juhasz, and Mary Stewart.

Still 10, she told her dad she wanted her own Beach Patrol truck one day. She was able to compete in the United States Lifesaving Association National Competitions in places like Daytona Beach, Virginia Beach, and Huntington Beach.

At 16, she tried out for Beach Patrol along with a whole bunch of other Junior Lifeguards. She worked hard and moved up the ranks.

She graduated Ball High School in 2009. In 2013, she graduated from Tulane with a Bachelor’s in Science Management- Marketing and Finance. Upon graduation she worked in Houston doing marketing for a sportswear company. Having grown up on the beach she didn’t like city life or the urban lifestyle. She missed being by the water and when an opening came up she applied for a position as a full time Lifeguard Supervisor for the Beach Patrol.

When asked why she wants to work as a career lifeguard she said she “loves  interacting with the public, raising public awareness related to beach safety, and how we as an organization share our passion for the beach and for the safety of others”. She says “you can see the difference you can make in a beachgoer’s life just through a small interaction”.

She always appreciated supervisors she had coming up who took extra time to mentor a young guard. Supervisors like Amie Hufton, Loree Pryor, and Gretchen Tyson were big influences on her and are largely responsible for her love of “the family aspect that is so integral to this job”.

She finds the biggest challenge to be showing new guards how to best interact with the public, especially teaching conflict resolution strategies and how to enforce rules. Once, as a young guard, she expressed her frustration with a beach patron to Loree Pryor who immediately asked her, “When you’re on vacation, do you think about your own safety?” This put it in perspective for Lauren. You have to be able to meet people where they are and understand their situation/point of view before you can reach resolution.

Another challenge is teaching the true understanding that the beach environment is in a constant state of flux. She says that “Getting this concept to the newer lifeguards is particularly challenging because they’re nervous and rigid, and not used to such a changing environment. There are no guard rails or bumpers at the beach”.

She says “This organization has opened so many doors for me… being able to handle such responsibility at a young age because of my experiences working the beach has been an invaluable life experience and has equipped me to deal with a variety of circumstances…[It] gives a broader perspective and keeps you grounded. Once you’ve dealt with life and death, normal day to day issues seems pretty manageable.”

 

1900 Storm

By the time 1900 rolled around, Galveston was the undisputed cultural and recreational center of this part of the country. Almost 500 bars and 50 brothels put it on par with the historically raucous New Orleans, and it ranked 2nd in the country for cotton exports and 3rd in wheat. Dredging ensured a constant flow of vessels in its deep water port and beautiful mansions lined Broadway, which at 9 feet of elevation was the highest street at the time.

Brothers Isaac and Joseph Cline ran the Galveston office of the National Weather Service and did their best to warn people of the upcoming storm, although they did not have the early detection systems we enjoy today. With only three ways off the island, 3 railroad bridges and one wagon bridge, it would have made little difference anyway.

We all know the story, or at least parts of it. On September 8th the island was battered by 120 mile winds and a storm surge of 15.7 feet. Isaac’s wife took refuge in the Cline house with a crowd and a streetcar came loose in the floodwaters and demolished the house. Her body wasn’t found for two weeks. The first six blocks on the beach side was completely cleared of buildings. 90 orphans and 10 nuns died when the roof of the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum collapsed. Over 6,000 people died on the island, and the total death toll was around 10,000 as the big storm lumbered all the way up to Canada. The morning after the storm many of those who survived had been clinging to floating wreckage for hours as they watched loved ones crushed and mangled all around them throughout the night. At first light they found a 30 block pile of debris comprised of parts of houses, businesses, as well as animal and human carcasses. Bodies were collected, weighted down, and sent off on rafts. They then floated back days later, bloated and almost unrecognizable. The task of burning the thousands of bodies was assigned to African American workers, often at gunpoint, which no doubt added to the increasing racial tension during this era of Jim Crow.

But, somehow we recovered. With the help of volunteers from Houston, the Red Cross, US Army, and Salvation Army, we cleaned up and started rebuilding. A new commission-style municipal government got things done. We built the first section of the seawall, raising parts of the island as high as 17 feet, deposited 500 city blocks of landfill, built a two mile concrete causeway, and made numerous improvements to the wharves.

At the recent kickoff for the large beach re-nourishment projects, Jerry Patterson described Galvestonians as being “resilient”. It’s hard to imagine us doing something of the magnitude of our forefathers. Often we seem to argue more than build. This project is, however, very encouraging. I wonder if this is a portent.

With the 1900 storm as our shared mythology and a beacon to what potential we as Galvestonians possess, who knows what we’re capable of?

 

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Surfing Mecca

Part of the surfing tradition is the mandatory pilgrimage to the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii is the spiritual ground zero for modern surfing. Part of this is that the islands are smack dab in the middle of the largest body of water on the planet and are basically mountains thrust up from the bottom of the ocean. So not only is there the most distance to gather swell, but going from thousands of feet of oceanic depth to shallow reefs is a guarantee for considerable energy to be dumped on the shoreline which results in impressive and consistent surf. But there are great waves all over the planet, so the question is why do surfers everywhere look to Hawaii as their surfing spiritual Mecca?

It’s not that Hawaiian surfing predated the rest of the planet. Throughout the Polynesian Islands, surfing was practiced before Hawaii was settled. In various parts of Africa it’s been documented that people surfed on short wooden boards hundreds of years ago. But only in Hawaii has surfing been such a key component in the tapestry of the culture.

At the time that Captain Cook arrived both men and women surfed regularly. There was a complicated governance structure where kings and queens demonstrated their power and competence at least partially in the water. But it wasn’t just surfing. Overall water competence was highly valued with the youth playing competitive games involving wrestling in the water, breath holding competitions, outrigger racing, and diving under big waves in the impact zone for sport. It was a breeding ground for water competence that had not been seen at that level perhaps throughout history.

The reasons are many that surfing was such an integral part of the Hawaiian lifestyle, religion, and power structure. First of all there was a sort of natural selection because the Polynesian people that actually reached the islands had to travel hundreds of miles in really small, open, outrigger boats. The first Hawaiians were water people who were closely and deeply connected with the ocean. There was an abundance of fish, lots of edible plants, and a perfect climate for growing. Surfing requires a great deal of leisure time and energy. Ancient Hawaiians not only fished, but grew vegetables on terraced farming areas, bred pigs and other farm animals, and even created fish farms in man-made pools. In fact they were so successful in taking care of the basic life necessities that their leaders reportedly outlawed any type of work for three months out of the year for a big festival. Along with all the religious obligations and parties, a large percentage of the population simply surfed. The ruling class could surf all year as well.

But I think the main reason modern surfers look to Hawaii is the echo we still hear from the idea of surfing as both a lifestyle and a quest. The Hawaiian word for surf is “nalu”. It also means to search for the true nature of things, and is used for the liquid covering a baby at birth.

 

Photo Credit: Stan Shebs