Pre-Labor Day

The week leading up to Labor Day Weekend has been an interesting one. School started and the beaches are suddenly pretty empty on the weekdays with the exception of some of the seawall areas and Stewart Beach. Last weekend, however, was really busy. We had pretty normal days with good crowds but the nights got wild.

Last weekend our on call unit responded to a total of 7 after hour calls between the time our last guards left around 9pm and before the first patrol unit hits the beach at 7:30. Most were boating emergencies that we worked in conjunction with the Coast Guard, Galveston Police Department, Galveston Fire Department, and Galveston EMS. Everyone ended up OK but the calm water and good fishing had everyone out in their boats in the middle of the night.

Another unusual thing that happened this week involved the water. We had a gentle current from the east for a few days, which was a change from most of the summer. A current from the west brings silt from the Brazos and Colorado rivers so we get that chocolaty rich colored water that we all know and love. But this easterly current cleared it up. Normally when we have these conditions we get a greenish colored water with a 4-5 foot visibility near the shoreline. But in this case the water looked like it does offshore. Saturday you could see all three sandbars from shore. Standing on a groin you could see all the submerged rocks and the sand on the bottom. And the water was a emerald blue green color. It was breathtaking and was even a little cooler than it’s been with no jellyfish, sea lice, or any other critters that would put a damper on things.

As we head into the last major weekend of the summer the conditions look really good. The rain isn’t supposed to be an issue, temperature should be mild, and we’re not expecting any unusually rough water or strong rip currents. Let’s hope this continues and we have one more really great weekend before everyone settles into their fall routine. The guards and equipment are ready on our end.

So remember to be that first and most important layer of protection for you and your family, but swim near a lifeguard so you have that extra layer if something goes wrong. Don’t swim alone and be sure to enter the water with children. Don’t forget to obey warning signs and flags, shuffle your feet to scare away marine critters, and that alcohol and water don’t mix. Also be sure to wear a lifejacket if you’re a non-swimmer or if you’re boating and make your children wear them when in or around the water.

Above all, stay away from the rock groins where there are always rip currents and don’t swim at the ends of the island where there may be strong tidal currents.

And have a great time, you deserve it! We’ll see you out there.

C-Sick Rescues

Brian Jarvis, of C-Sick Surfing, and his crew of surf instructors are a fixture at the 43rd street groin. They were teaching lessons early on a Sunday morning when they heard screaming off the end of the jetty. Looking up they saw 5 people in distress. They raced out to help, reaching them just as the first couple went under.

Keeping the boards between them and the victims they stabilized the group and brought them to shore safely. On shore they realized the two men and three women were wearing long shorts and some even had on beach shoes. Definitely not swimming attire.

The group had been completely unprepared for the drop off they stepped into when they got close to the rip current and drop off on the west side of the groin. They stepped into the hole and the current pushed them out to the end of the rocks as they struggled to stay afloat. If it wasn’t for the quick thinking and heroic actions of Brian and his group we’d have definitely been looking at least a couple of drownings.

And this is not the first time that C-Sick has done this. Nor are they an exception as other surf instructors save multiple people each year. In fact, surfers probably save at least as many people each year as the Beach Patrol does.

Not that we’re not working hard to prevent drownings, but surfers are in the water on the rough days when the rip currents are strongest and they’re out there very early, before the lifeguards get on duty. The same applies to fisher folk and people out walking the groin who rescue an estimated 45 people a year using the ring buoys that are in the rescue boxes that Beach Patrol maintains on the end of each groin.

The nature of Lifeguarding is different than other emergency services in several ways, but the most distinctive is that it is the most proactive. We try hard NOT to make rescues. We only make between 100 and 250 a year. Sounds weird, but for every rescue that happens both the rescuer and victims are put at considerable risk. It’s easy to die in the water if things go wrong. Instead of making rescues we annually make around 55,000 of what we call “preventative actions”, where we move people away from areas that could be potentially hazardous. Most of these preventative actions are moving people away from the 15 rock groins along the seawall, but we also move a considerable amount closer to shore, out of the water at ends of the island, or away from other hazards.

Overall, Galveston has a whole network that keeps people safe in the water including the lifeguards, community groups that make rescues and prevent drownings, other emergency response groups, and a whole bunch of public education done by guards, hoteliers, media, community and governmental groups, and you. Spread the word on how to be safe in the ocean to those close to you!

Monofilament

A network of agencies, including the Beach Patrol, deal with a number of environmental hazards including underwater obstructions, petroleum products, bacteria, and containers full of toxic material. But one of the most critical to wildlife is monofilament- a single-strand, strong, flexible plastic that is clear or tinted blue, pink or green.

John O’Connel runs the recovery and recycle program for A&M/Sea Grant and maintains a website full of useful information about monofilament at https://mrrp.tamu.edu/. According to the website most monofilament is non-biodegradable — it lasts about 600 years. Because it is thin and often clear, it is difficult for birds and other animals to see and they can easily brush up against it and become entangled. Once entangled, they may become injured, drown, or starve to death. Many animals also ingest fishing line.

Monofilament is recycled when it is collected from recycling bins and cleaned of hooks, leaders, weights and trash by volunteers. It is then shipped to a place that melts it down and made into other plastic products, including tackle boxes, spools for line, fish habitats and toys. It is not made into more monofilament line. You can recycle the line by depositing it in to cardboard recycling boxes that can be found in some tackle shops, or deposit it in an outdoor monofilament recycling container. If you choose to throw it in the trash make sure you cut the line into short lengths (less than six inches), because once it goes to the landfill it can be scavenged there by animals trying to use it to build nests or eat it.

If you see a marine mammal or turtle entangled, contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-800-9-MAMMAL. All marine mammals and sea turtles should only be handled by qualified personnel. For other entangled wildlife, go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/rehab/list to locate a wildlife rehabilitator. If you see a bird entangled, you may be able to free it yourself by first throwing a blanket or towel over the bird’s head to limit their eyesight, being careful not to entangle it in the fabric.

You can’t really talk about efforts to increase the amount of monofilament line that’s collected locally without mentioning Joanie Steinhaus, Associate Campaign Director, Gulf Coast Turtle Island Restoration Network. She’s involved with many projects, one of which involves educating local fishermen and placing collection tubes on Boddeker Road, Sea Wolf Park, both fishing piers and some sites on the west end. Surfrider Galveston also maintains tubes on four of the jetties and Joanie is always trying to recruit more volunteers for placement and maintenance of the tubes.

She is working with John O’Connel to raise funds for addition signs and stickers for the tubes, and with multiple agencies and other NGOs to raise awareness and recruit volunteers.

If you are interested in helping by maintaining a collection tube, putting up a collection box, or helping with outreach give her a call at 409-795-8426 or e-mail her at joanie@tirn.net.

We all appreciate all the good work being done by Joanie, John, and all the volunteers!

 

 

National Championship

The early morning light glimmered across the water, bathing the line of figures in a coppery glow. Each of them carried a narrow, sleek racing board under their arm. They were coiled and vibrating until the whistle blew and they exploded in a blur as they raced out into the water. First they high stepped until they were in deeper water then they hopped on the boards either prone or on their knees. Waves knocked a few back, but the front pack shot through the surf line in a tight clump and headed out to a line of flags and buoys.

The leader sliced through the water with the others drafting in his wake. They jockeyed for position as they neared the first turn, knowing  even a small error would be critical at this point. Only a few would advance to the next round.

One of the competitors who was towards the rear of the front pack nabbed a nice wave on the outside, joined shortly after by a clump of others. Having been able to rest on the wave, he jumped up in knee deep water and sprinted in through a funnel finish.

Welcome to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) national lifeguard championships. This year Daytona Beach, Florida hosted around 900 competitors and their support crews. The best of the best ocean lifeguards and junior lifeguards in the country competed in a multitude of Lifesaving Sport events which simulate the skills needed to rescue people in trouble.

More than any other of the emergency services, ocean lifeguards rely very heavily on their skill and fitness in the water to effect rescues. All the inter and intra agency competitions lead to regional competitions and eventually the best duke it out at the “Nationals”. Competition is the key motivator for thousands of beach lifeguards to maintain the incredibly high levels of physical fitness required to do the job.

The Galveston Beach Patrol has a long history of doing well at these competitions and are known throughout the country for this and for the innovative professionalism shown though decades of service. This year they did not disappoint.

Top junior guard finishes were:

Carlos Guerra (older group) 2K Beach Run-12th place, Run-Swim-Run- 15th place, Iron Guard (Run-Swim-Board Paddle)- 11th place

Mac Livanec (younger group)- 2K run- 2nd, beach flags- 8th, rescue board- 7th, Iron Guard- 12th

Baxter Wright (12-13)- 2K run-11th, board race- 2nd,

Carlos Guerra/Baxter Wright Swim Rescue Race 9th place

 

Finals for Lifeguard Competitors were:

Loree Pryor– American Iron Woman (run-swim-paddle)- 2nd, Beach Flags- 3rd, Run- Swim-Run- 4th, Rescue Board Race- 4th

Kevin Anderson– International Ironman- 4th, 2K Beach Run- 6th, Run-Swim-Run- 7th, Surf Ski- 8th, American Iron Man- 10,

Peter Davis– 2K Run- 2nd, American Iron Man (run, swim paddle row)- 4th, rescue board- 4th, surf ski- 4th, International Iron Man- 4th, Surf Ski 5th,

Nikki Harclerode/Caitlin Fairhurst– Surf Boat- 7th

Alana Anderson– 2k- 4th, American Iron Woman- 6th, Board Race 9th, Run-Swim-Run- 5th

Ellie Cherryholmes

One of the things that’s such a privilege about my job is getting to see so many people enter our program at 10 as a Junior Lifeguard, and blossom into truly exceptional people as they move up through the program and enter adulthood. Allow me to introduce you to Ellie Cherryhomes.

Ellie is the youngest of three and was raised by a single mother, who is one of our biggest supporters and is always there for Ellie. At times her mom has held down three separate jobs to make things work. Ellie also has a father and three half siblings in Equatorial Guinea, which may have contributed to her broad world view.

As she finishes her third year of guarding, Ellie’s accomplishments are impressive. She recently graduated 5th in her class from Ball High School. She won a “Research and Design” internship at UTMB. She was the National Honor Society President and the Vice President of the Technical Honor Society. She was also Captain of the Water Polo Team.

6 hours after graduating she was on a plane to California. She was one of the two first recipients  of the Ben Carlson Scholarship, given in memory of the Newport Beach Lifeguard that died tragically a year ago during a big wave rescue. His death and her first big rescue happened on the same weekend and she feels a connection. She received a fairly large sum of cash for school, which will help her pay her way through college. She also received clothes, a wetsuit, and a custom board from Hurley which won’t hurt either!

Beach Patrol has been a big part of Ellie’s life. She describes it as, “…more of a lifestyle than a job”, and feels it has given her a good set of friends and connection to the ocean. Not many of her peers have the same qualifications and experience. Nor have they been “entrusted with such a high level of responsibility- not just for people, but for the ocean and nature in general”. She feels this has given her a real leg up on college applications and other awards she’s received.

Through her connection with Beach Patrol, sports, and the ocean she found a mentor in Joe Cerdas, a full time Supervisor/Officer. Joe is the leader of a stand up paddle group that has been branded “Ocean Tribe”. With Joe and his dedicated band of athletes she’s competed all over the state and elsewhere.

Most recently, Ellie won a very prestigious scholarship from National Geographic, where she spent a month traveling in northern India with a group and three professional photo journalists. Staying with farmers, teaching in schools, and being exposed to all kinds of new things was “life altering”.

It will be interesting to see where Ellie ends up. We do know that she’s the best that Galveston and the Beach Patrol has to offer. Wherever she goes she’ll move forward with integrity, genuineness, and a real commitment to do more than scratch the surface of our lived experience.

Naked Lady

The heat was kicking in as late afternoon settled over the beach. Tempers were getting frayed as sunburned, dehydrated, families packed up their stuff and got ready for the long, sandy ride back to Houston.

Lifeguards had been busy all day with a persistent current pulling people towards the rocks and small choppy surf keeping everyone on edge. The radio crackled with calls of lifeguards moving swimmers broken up with occasional medical or enforcement calls.

Suddenly an excited voice broke the pattern. “Tower 47 to headquarters, there’s a naked woman fighting someone on my beach”. The area supervisor arrived within a few moments and called that they were stepping out on a disturbance and requested the Galveston Police Department and another lifeguard supervisor for backup. Then there was some confusion and a Galveston policeman came up on our radio channel requesting us to send another unit that way to back up our guards since they had gone in the water.

Turns out the “naked” woman actually had a top on. Just not the bottom. When she and her wife stopped fighting and the lifeguards and police arrived she put on her bottom. Then she inexplicably took off all of her clothes, left her wife and two small kids, and ran into the area next to the groin where the rip current is. Supervisor Gabe Macicek and Senior Guard Emma went in after her and were trying to keep her away from the rocks so she wouldn’t get caught in the rip or step into the really deep area.

That’s when it started to get weird.

The woman was 6ft tall, big and strong, and was pretty worked up. She was yelling at Gabe as he kept trying to get her to return to shore and leave the dangerous area. They were able to gradually talk her into waist deep water. She asked him if they were cops. He told her no. Then she said, “You wanna be a hero?!!” and she started hitting both he and Emma. They tried to block her blows and stay away but she ended up connecting on Gabe 3 times and twice on Emma repeating her mantra of “You wanna be a hero?!!!) over and over.

The second lifeguard truck arrived while this was going on and Supervisor David Nash came up from behind the woman and bear hugged her so she couldn’t hit them. All three moved her a little closer to shore as several GPD officers went way above the call of duty and waded out to their knees and cuffed the woman (thanks yet again GPD!).

The teamwork the GPD and my staff showed was impressive. The guards who showed so much restraint and put themselves in harm’s way to protect someone who was (at least at that moment) combative, dangerous and completely out of her head are a real credit to both our organization and to the profession of lifesaving.

15 minutes later our “Heroes” stepped out on another altercation between two more people 7 blocks away. All on a Tuesday!

SHARKMANIA

Ahhhhhh….. SHARKMANIA!

With the sensationalism of the shark attacks on the Carolina coast it seems like everyone is on the lookout. Social media adds to the drama and we often get calls from reporters about sightings that they hear about. There was a good one floating around recently about a huge Great White that was caught swimming about a mile from Galveston’s shoreline. Turns out it was a Mako caught off of Nova Scotia during a fishing tournament several years ago. But where does reasonable caution intersect with irrational fear?

You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning or killed by a dog bite than being bitten by a shark. In the past 25 years we’ve responded to or received reports of 9 or so shark bites on the island. No doubt there are others, especially incidents with fishermen, but the number is very small. With around 6 million tourists visiting the island a year, the math works out pretty good… for the swimmers.

There are a number of reasons that our number of bites is so low compared to other beach locations and you very seldom hear of an actual “attack” involving multiple bites. One of these is that we don’t have rivers or inlets flowing out where there are a significant number of recreational swimmers. For example in Florida’s New Smyrna Beach, which is basically a river mouth, there are a number of bites every year. Another reason is that sharks in this area don’t have a regular food source that resembles a person. When I lived on the west coast and surfed regularly at Santa Cruz I often thought about how the white of my board resembled the soft white underbelly of a seal from below.

Aside from avoiding swimming in river mouths or in areas where bays and estuaries meet the ocean, there are a number of precautions you can take to reduce your chances of an unpleasant encounter with a shark while swimming in Galveston:

  1. Avoid Swimming in the middle of schooling fish- Sharks eat fish and could grab a hand or leg by accident. Even though the most likely scenario is for them to release and go for easier prey, that one bite could do some damage. This is the typical scenario I’ve seen in the handful of shark bites I’ve worked through the years.
  2. Shuffle your feet- When you drag your feet in a sort of “ice skating motion” you send out vibrations. Small sharks, stingray, fish, etc will try to get away from you. If you don’t step on them they won’t try to fight back.
  3. Don’t swim while bleeding- Sharks are extremely sensitive to the smell of blood and can detect a very small amount.

Part of the fun of swimming in the ocean is the excitement of being in a place that’s not your natural habitat. With a reasonable amount of caution you can significantly reduce the risk of a mishap and have a great time.

Beach Tips

I’ve noticed that many websites have a “helpful tips”, or a “frequently asked questions”. After the busy 4th of July weekend (and all the goofy stuff people ask and do!) my staff and I have compiled a tentative list for our website. Keep in mind that this is a very rough draft and probably needs a bit of polishing. It’s also based on actual events:

  1. Emergency lanes are not for dropping off and picking up all your coolers, BBQ pits, dogs, kids, couches, and other beach necessities.
  2. If you’re dog is off the leash, knocks over a little kid, and urinates on someone’s beach towel, they’re not in the wrong for complaining.
  3. Getting really drunk and almost hitting a child while riding a jet ski does not entitle you to pick a fight with the child’s parents.
  4. Losing your child 3 times in one day means it’s time to re-evaluate something. Maybe your drinking habits?
  5. Losing a 2 year old is not the kid’s fault and he doesn’t need a spanking.
  6. (To a large group of grown men) No sir. The Beach Patrol did not steal your Wiffle Ball bat.
  7. The job description of a lifeguard does not include picking up jellyfish, dead fish, or dirty diapers.
  8. Being a “taxpayer” does not mean you are allowed to drive your vehicle anywhere you want, including areas that other people (who also pay taxes) are not allowed.
  9. While we are happy, when able, to help anyone out however we can, giving your car a boost does not take precedence over responding to a possible drowning call. Even if you threaten to have us fired and even if you do “pay taxes”.
  10. (This one is more of a beauty tip). While sporty and sassy, that yellow bandana tied around your ankle does not hide that court ordered “low jack” ankle bracelet that you’re wearing with your bikini
  11. I’m sorry sir, but the “verbal leash” you have your dog on does not meet the city code.
  12. Saying “I’m not driving in a prohibited area, I’m just dropping off my stuff” does not mean you can blast through all the people on Stewart Beach in your big SUV to drop off your cooler and chairs. You have to use the parking lot just like the other 150,000 people who came to the beach today.
  13. You can’t swim in the “No Swimming” area by the rock groins. Even if you’re a Red Cross pool lifeguard who “swims like a fish”.
  14. When your big, slobbery, off his leash, pit bull is charging a small child, you yelling “he’s friendly” does little to comfort or calm his/her parents.
  15. Yes. You are welcome to fill out a complaint form because you are very angry that the rescue truck doesn’t carry a pump to blow up inflatables, such as your big Shamoo doll.
  16. (My favorite) Happy Birthday! But that doesn’t mean no one can play “chicano music”…..

The 4th

Summer is flying by. There have been so many people on the beach that even weekdays feel like weekends. As busy as it’s been even all of our rookie lifeguards have gotten a good amount experience under their belts which helps things run smoothly. We’re already to the 4th of July weekend!

The beach has shifted into its summer pattern. Tides have dropped from spring to summer levels. We requested that the Coastal Zone Management Department of the Park Board move our towers closer to the shoreline. Winds and waves have started dropping and we’re bouncing between green (calm condition) flags and yellow (caution).

The water is full of all kinds of critters now so we’ve been seeing a few jellyfish stings and an occasional stingray hit. This is still pretty minimal when you compare it to the hundreds of thousands of visitors, but more than we were seeing a month ago. Just as a reminder, the treatment for a jellyfish sting is rinsing with saline solution (or salt water if that’s the nearest thing). This gets the tentacles off and keeps the sting from getting worse. Then do something for the pain like rub ice on it or treat with a topical anesthetic. Most stings are a pretty short time event and it’s extremely rare to see any kind of allergic reaction to them. For stingrays, they’re easily prevented if you shuffle your feet while in the water. If you are unfortunate enough to catch a barb in your foot or ankle you want to soak it in hot water immediately- but not so hot you burn your skin. The pain goes away very quickly. Then you need to seek medical attention because they have a 100% infection rate.

We would really like to thank all of you that attended our 18th annual BBQ fundraiser or sent in donations. Well over a thousand people came to support, swap stories, eat food, and hang out. It ended up being a perfect night and a really good time. We really appreciate all the support and it was good to have all the friends, supporters, and beach people in one place!

If you or yours are headed to the beach this weekend remember to swim near a lifeguard and don’t check your brain at home or on the other side of the causeway. Stay far away from groins and piers.  Also remember to keep a close eye on your kids and wear a lifejacket if you’re a poor swimmer/child or on boats.  One thing to keep in mind is that we typically see a lot of heat related injuries (heat exhaustion and heat stroke) on this particular weekend. I’m not sure what it is about the combination of 10 hours of sun, food, and beer that brings this on? But it’s an easy thing to prevent if you remember to stay hydrated (no my fellow Texans, beer doesn’t count!), wear protective clothes and use sunscreen, seek shade periodically, and use decent sunglasses.

Have a great holiday!

Canine Rescue

Supervisor/Officer Joe Cerdas was on his way to work early the other day in his personal car. He lives on the west end and was just nearing the end of the seawall. It was in the height of tropical storm Bill and the wind was blasting, so he was driving carefully. Suddenly his radio crackled as an emergency call came through.

Apparently a man had been on the edge of the seawall looking at the huge surf as it bashed against the seawall and sent plumes of foam over the top of the wall. The tide was really high so you could hardly see the rocks at the base of the wall as wave after wave pounded in. His dog became excited and jumped off the wall.

The west end of the seawall has long been a trouble spot for the Beach Patrol. When the current sweeps from west to east people can get caught in the ever present rip current at western side of the wall and swept around in front of the wall. They can’t swim back the way they came, and there’s no beach in front of the seawall. When the tide is high and there are waves, you have to get over the rocks while the waves break on you. Then, you have to find a stairwell, and there aren’t many in the area. We’ve made many dramatic rescues using rescue boards to ride people over the rocks, often with the fire department lifting them up the wall.

As Joe pulled up he looked over the wall to see the 80 pound dog in big trouble. The poor dog’s pads were bleeding from multiple attempts to climb to the top of the wall, only to be repeatedly dragged down the wall between waves.

A GPD K9 unit and the animal control unit arrived right behind Joe.

He grabbed a rope from the animal control unit that was being used to try and lasso the dog. He then asked the officers and bystanders to lower him down the seawall so he could grab it. The plan was that once he had the dog they could pull him up and over the seawall.

He improvised a harness which he tied around himself and was then lowered down the seawall.

His first attempt to grab the dog was unsuccessful as a wave hit them both, causing him to lose his grip as he was tossed around by the powerful surf. On the second wave he was able to grab the dog and place him higher on his shoulder which gave him a more secure grip on the big canine.

As the peace officers and bystanders hauled them up, they were hit by numerous waves which slammed them against the wall. But Joe held fast and didn’t lose his grip.

As they finally neared the top of the wall, Joe passed the dog to his owner, and then he pulled himself over the top of the wall to safety.

All we heard on the radio was:

“Cerdas back in, one canine rescue”.

FOT6AA8