Lifeguarding in the ’80’s was a different thing.
Today, with a staff of almost 130, a strict policy and procedure manual, and a very long, intense, and comprehensive training course, we run one of the most professional beach guarding organizations in the country. The guards that make it through are reliable, committed, and professional. Of course it’s fun, but there’s not a lot of monkey business.
Back in the “pre-liability” 80’s it was a different story. We worked hard, but there were only around 20 or so lifeguards in, say 1985. We were a family that worked and played together. Our “headquarters” was a trailer parked on Stewart Beach and our Dispatcher/Office Manager was there every day, all day. Unlike today, where our staff is roughly 50% women, it was a very male dominated culture. There were a few very exceptional women that worked for the Beach Patrol and we respected them because they more than held their own. With such a small staff and only two peace officers that helped with security on the weekends (thank you Donny and Albie!) the lifeguards dealt with wild, drunken Texas crowds often. I remember women lifeguards jumping in with the men to break up large fights often.
None of the women (or men) were tougher than Diana Praker, who we knew simply as “Praker”. Praker was a very good triathlete who trained constantly with a couple of other Beach Patrol athletes. She partied as hard as she worked.
After work we used to go to an outdoor blues bar called the Patio Bar that was attached to a waterslide on Stewart Beach. It was a biker bar and very few bikers were of the modern urban fashionista variety. But the guards fit in and they served a drink called that “lifeguard special” for an obscenely cheap price for the guards, so we were regulars.
On one Saturday after an especially grueling day on the beach, a bunch of lifeguards, friends, G-town locals, and bikers were there. Praker walked in with her friend Brit. Brit was gorgeous and instantly got the attention of the crowd. They sat with the group and joined in whatever the smack talk was of the moment.
Praker got up to get a round for everyone and a drunk biker sat down next to Brit and started saying all kinds of obscene things to her. We all watched, amused at the diversion, until he started pawing at her. Before any of us could react to help Brit, Praker was there with a serious right cross. Drunky Biker Guy went down, knocked out cold.
His friends came up and I personally think my life flashed before my eyes. But the main guy that approached suddenly started laughing and shaking Praker’s hand. As we got some oxygen to revive Drunky, the bikers bought us a round and joined us at the table.
I vaguely remember Praker and Drunky Biker Guy toasting to Brit somewhere in there as the evening wore on.