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Do You Have What It Takes?

At 7am in the morning a group of swimmers stand near the pool getting a briefing. In groups of 10 they enter their assigned lanes and swim 10 laps, which is 500 meters. About half of them make it under the required time. These are interviewed and take a drug test. Those that make it through all three phases qualify for the Galveston Island Beach Patrol Lifeguard Academy.

When I started as a lifeguard back in 1983, there was no formal training and no special first aid course other than what I got when I took the Red Cross pool lifesaving course. I was just given a radio and sent to work. We’ve come a long way since then and now have a comprehensive training course that is over 90 hours long. And we pay those who qualify to attend!

Next Saturday, March 9th, is the first of two tryouts for the Beach Patrol at 7am at the UTMB pool. We will have an academy over Spring Break and another in May. If you know anyone that wants to work on the Beach Patrol spread the word. Details are on our website. Candidates who want to start working right away can go through the first lifeguard academy over spring break. They are certified in CPR, First Aid, and beach lifeguarding. They also go through training in tourist relations, city codes pertaining to Galveston’s beaches, Gulf Coast ecology and marine life, and near shore topography and hydrology. Coupled with all the classroom work is hands on training in how to swim and make rescues in surf, search and recovery, and the basics of lifesaving sport. It’s a busy week and we’ll do it all over again the second week in May.

In addition to training for new lifeguards we are starting our annual training session for dispatchers, supervisors, and personal water craft rescue operations. By the time Memorial Weekend hits, we’ll be up to speed. Despite the huge amount of effort all this requires of our permanent staff members, who are all medical and lifesaving instructors, there’s a big payoff for both our staff and the public. The inconsistent training that once took a whole summer is taught in a uniform manner. Each employee is taught the same material and instilled with similar core values. Any one of our guards can handle whatever is thrown at them when they complete the training.

So, for those that would like to try being a beach guard, I hope you’ll give it a shot. I’m so happy I tried out all those years ago. For me it was a life changer. Not many people get to go home at the end of the day with the knowledge that they prevented people from getting hurt or worse. Not many people have the privilege of reuniting lost family members or treating people who are hurt. Not many people can say that they saved a life as part of their job.

Memorial Hermann IRONMAN 70.3 Texas

It’s not too late to sign up for our “Wave Watcher’s Academy” which starts next Monday! Info is on our website.

Last week one morning I went for a swim at the amazing new city pool. The water was just right, but as I got through my warm up set I started feeling really slow. Going through the normal checklist of recent meals, sleep, and previous day’s activities didn’t raise a flag. Then I realized I wasn’t swimming slower than normal, I was just getting shamed by a group of swimmers in the adjacent lanes. Turns out it was one of the pro foreign teams that came to the US to compete in the Galveston Ironman event last weekend!

This triathlon has really put Galveston on the map for the national and international triathlon community. With over 3,000 competitors and all their entourage it’s a big event here. Beach Patrol takes the lead on guarding it with a lot of help from our Galveston Marine Response partners. We’re always really busy during this event. After the final swimmer got out of the water and we received the “all clear” from the event organizers, we’d chalked up 112 swim assists, 16 rescues, and 2 rescues with major medical injuries that we passed over the Galveston EMS crew on site.

There are several reasons that Galveston is such a good site in the spring and fall for the Ironman triathlon and other sporting events. A venue like Moody Gardens is a great place for participants to stay with their families. While they’re out training and competing there are plenty of things for their friends and families to do all over the island. Galveston has a lot of amenities packed into a small, easy to navigate community, and between Moody Gardens, the Strand, Schlitterbahn, and all the beach parks, there’s no shortage of entertainment. But maybe the best thing is our proximity to the ocean.

Even if they never make it to the beach, the water makes the climate just perfect for much of the spring and fall. While inland towns have large temperature fluctuations, Galveston remains relatively constant. We typically see less than a 10 degree difference between the day and night. The ocean is like a temperature buffer. It’s particularly noticeable when we get to May and June. While mainland temperatures may spike into the upper 90’s, we see temperatures in the low to mid 80’s. As long as there’s an on-shore wind, the air passing over the cooler spring water is more temperate. In the fall, it’s the opposite. As mainland temperatures drop, the air hitting Galveston passes over warmer water, keeping it nice longer into the year. Of course, no place is perfect. When August rolls around and the air, water, and humidity are all in the 90’s it can be tough. And that moist, coastal breeze is not very welcome in December and January. But all in all, we’re pretty lucky to live here.

Beach Season is Here!

It’s was so nice all week to see good weather and everyone out enjoying the beach. There’s always such a quick transition from winter’s empty beaches to spring. Seeing kids on the playground at Stewart Beach, teens playing Frisbee or throwing a ball on the shoreline, people fishing and bird watching, and families along the shoreline is a great reminder of how lucky we are to live on the coast.

Last Saturday we started working seasonal lifeguards from the towers. Leading up to that we had a Supervisor/Senior Lifeguard Recertification Academy, Dispatch Certification Academy, and we started our new Lifeguard Training Academy, which runs all week till Sunday. I’m always impressed with the men and women who choose to go through the academy or to work during Spring Break instead of spending the whole week hanging out with friends. Every year I’m impressed with how dedicated our lifeguards are and how much they believe in our mission to protect people that visit the beach.

Another group that is impressive is our “Wave Watcher” corps. We had a meeting last weekend to talk about how to improve the Wave Watcher Academy, which will be held April 16-19th. This is a volunteer group that works with the lifeguards and spots people that could potentially get in trouble. They help find lost kids, and generally assist in lots of ways. They’re not obligated to do anything after their training course other than keep their eyes open when they go near the beach. But many of them go way beyond. Join us if you have time! Info will be on our website and social media shortly.

The cold front that came through early this week dropped it back down from 70 to the mid 60’s. Those few degrees really cut down the number of people who are in the water. The guards have been busy moving swimmers away from the rock groins, especially since there’s been a lot of current running parallel to shore. But if the water was a few degrees warmer most of the people hanging out on the sand would have been in the water.

Spring Break has changed through the years. We’ve been through periods where this was the place to party for college and high school kids. That definitely still exists, but we’ve really become more of a family destination. Some of that is no doubt due to the excellent marketing that’s been done for the island, which promotes a family destination with lots of options that include eco-tourism, fishing, surfing, horseback riding, historical tours, shopping, and visiting amazing destinations like The Strand, Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn,  and the Opera House. Other reasons for this shift are an ever more responsive police department and increased security at the beach with more of a presence than they had in the past.

Mardi Gras really is the kick off for the new tourist year, but Spring Break is definitely the sign that the beach season is here! Come to the beach and swim near a lifeguard!

 

Mind Over Matter

I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

I hate the cold. I’d be happy if it never dipped below 80 degrees year round. I have a lot of friends through the International Lifesaving Federation from all over and I mentioned how cold it’s been here to  the head of the lifesaving federation of Norway and to the Executive Director of the Danish Lifesaving Federation. Big mistake. Telling northern Europeans it’s cold in Galveston, Texas is a little like telling someone from Cairo that the Strand is “really old”.

The reply from Norway was a picture showing a road dusted with snow with what looks like a couple of inches on the sides. It says, “In the USA- Close all the schools there’s no way we can go to school in this weather!” Then it’s followed by another picture of a snow covered road between what looks like huge ice cliffs on both sides. The caption for this one reads, “In Norway- Kids if you do well on this test I promise we can take a bath in the lake, your dad will break the ice for us.”

As if I wasn’t already feeling like a whiner, I then got my buddy’s reply from Denmark. Erik told me how they’d gotten to feeling pretty cooped up since the days only had about 7 hours of daylight and it had been snowing several feet, so they hadn’t seen the sun in a number of days. He and his fellow lifeguards decided to go out for some “training”. They went to a nearby lake, cut a hole in the ice with a chainsaw, then put on really thick wetsuits and dive gear. Dropping into the water with a soccer ball, they inflated their buoyancy compensators so they floated up like corks. Standing upside down on the bottom of the ice they played underwater soccer. He didn’t mention alcohol, but I can only imagine those big Vikings coming up periodically to down goblets of ale between points.

It’s all relative. Those replies remind me how good we have it here where we whine about weather that drops a little below freezing. But there’s a deeper level. A lot of things we experience as discomfort or as an inconvenience can be pretty enjoyable once you shift your mindset. With the right clothes almost any cold is comfortable. Or if you shift your mind further you can redefine what “comfortable” is. An older gentleman that many of you know runs every day on the seawall early in the morning. He is always wearing shorts no matter what the temperature. I passed him early one of those cold mornings. As I passed I thought to myself that he must be suffering. They he gave his usual smile and wave and continued his slow, steady pace down the wall looking the farthest thing from cold or uncomfortable as possible.

I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

Cold Winter Days

I had a suggestion from a friend this week to write about how we deal with the cold water and air while working in the beach environment. It’s an interesting topic since even when we’re building towers, working on signage, or even working in the office we have to be ready at a moment’s notice to enter the water, potentially for prolonged periods, if an emergency drops.

The water last week dropped into the 40’s, which is no joke. Water in the 40’s can kill you pretty quickly if you are not prepared and don’t know what you’re doing. For this reason, we buy our full time staff good wetsuits that they keep handy at all times. Few people could function for more than a few minutes in 48 degree water without a decent wetsuit.

There’s a misconception that all you have to do is pop on a wetsuit and you’re good in any temperature of water. This isn’t at all true and there are several variables that go into effect when you’re doing rescue work in cold water, such as body mass, how accustomed you are to the cold, etc. Even so, probably the most important thing is having the right wetsuit for both the air/water temperature, duration, and for the activity. But even with the right suit, the first thing that happens when you jump in is freezing cold water slips into the suit, taking your breath away. If you don’t know what happens next you may panic. Fortunately, after just a few minutes that water in your suit is heated by your body and forms a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. This layer of water acts as insulation and actually keeps you warm despite the cold water outside the suit, and to a more limited extent against cold wind above the water.

For example if you’re going scuba diving in 50 degree water you will need a very thick wetsuit, maybe 6 millimeters thick with boots, gloves, and a hood. In that same water temperature, for a strenuous rescue or swim session taking 45 minutes or less you’d want more flexibility in your suit and you’d be generating a great deal more body heat, so you might be happy with something that is only 3 millimeters thick. Some suits are designed for swimming with flexible areas around the shoulders and others are better for surfing with areas around the hips that are more flexible. But all are way better than just jumping in!

Originally wetsuits were made of rubber and designed by a west coast aerospace engineer (who was a surfer) for the military. But soon after the use of neoprene with its flexibility and closed cells trapping air inside the material made it affordable and practical for surfers and lifeguards and later for all types of water sports enthusiasts.

As we continue to see more beach use during the cold months we’d be lost without wetsuits to help us protect increasing numbers of beach users.

Pool Update

Our first lifeguard tryouts of the year are just around the corner on March 14th. If you know anyone who’s interested, information is available on our website at www.galvestonislandbeachpatrol.org . We have a new short recruiting and information video on our homepage as well, so check it out to see all our local lifeguard stars.

Our full time crew has been racking up the road miles lately recruiting lifeguards at area high schools and colleges. It’s always a challenge to get enough qualified lifeguard candidates each year that can pass our swim requirement, which is much harder than what a pool or waterpark needs. We always get a good number from the various area high school swim teams, but without a community pool there is a pretty small group of local swimmers to pick from. That’s one of the many reasons we are excited about the prospect of actually having a public swimming pool here on the island! For those of you that have not heard the latest on this project, they’ve made significant progress.

The swimming pool committee asked for and received an extension from the Moody Foundation regarding their challenge grant, we have until Dec 2015 to generate the balance of the project to get the match. Thus far, a little over $2.12 million has been raised, leaving about $1.6 M to go.  153 individuals have contributed over $62,000.  There are about a $1 million in grants to assorted foundations, people, and state sources pending.

It will only take $50 per person on the island and we will be breaking ground!

There is a big community wide treasure sale coming up March 13-15 at McGuire Dent’s gym.  They need donations of stuff, volunteers to work the sale, and of course we all need to go out and support.

The plan now includes a wall of fame where donations greater than $100 will be recognized in a mural at the entrance to the pool.

The hope is to eventually offer swim lessons for every 2nd or 3rd grader in Galveston and to train a local workforce for all the lifeguard related jobs on the island.  Our residents can’t compete for those good paying summer jobs if they never have the opportunity to learn to swim.

It’s still planned for Lasker Park, 43rd and Q. There will be two pools, one recreational with slides and play features, and one competition ready with 8 lanes x 25 yds. The tennis courts will remain and off street parking will be added. The practice football fields will be rotated and a marked walking trail around the block will be measured off.  The city was kind enough to re-engineer 43rd street so as it is repaired this spring all necessary drainage, water lines and utilities will be upgraded to be ready for the pool.

Donations can be made out to the Galveston Community Swimming Pool and mailed to: 2222 28th street, Galveston, TX 77551. All credit cards accepted at 409-621-3177.

Tryout Training: Day 10

Just 3 days away from our second tryout! Are you ready?! Test yourself with this swim workout. If you can do the 1000m under 18 minutes, our 500m test under 9 minutes should be a piece of cake. Be at the UTMB Field House (215 Holiday Dr., Galveston, TX) at 7am on April 19th to earn a spot in our rookie school!

Warm Up
200 swim choice
400 kick, pull, fins, swim
Main Set
1000 swim for time
6 x 25 sprint on 0:40
Warm Down
100 easy

Tryout Training: Day 9

Less than a week away from our second tryout! Time for the final push and test yourself to find out if you’re ready for our 500m swim under 9 minutes. April 19th, 7am at the UTMB Field House (215 Holiday Dr., Galveston, TX).

 

Warm Up
200 swim choice
400 kick, pull, fins, swim
Main Set
1200 swim for time
6 x 25 sprint on 0:40
Warm Down
100 easy

Tryout Training: Day 7 and Day 8

We’re posting 2 workouts today because we missed Wednesday. Knock one out today and another tomorrow or Sunday. 8 days away from our 2nd tryout! 4/19 at the UTMB Field House at 7am. 500m under 9 minutes!

Day 7

Warm Up
300 swim choice
300 Drill/swim IM order
Main Set
400 swim on 7:40
200 pull 3:20
2 x 100 swim with fins on 1:40
4 x 50 swim 0n 0:50
300 swim pace
Warm Down
6 x 50 choice kick
100 easy

Day 8

Warm Up
300 swim choice
300 drill swim IM order
Main Set
3 x 50 sprint on 1:00
150 recovery swim on3:20
3 x 100 sprint on 2:00
150 recovery swim on 3:20
3 x 150 sprint on 3:00
150 recovery swim on 3:20
3 x 25 sprint on 0:40
150 recovery swim on 3:20
Warm Down
200 easy

Tryout Training: Day 6

Day 6’s pool workout. Keep training! April 19th’s tryout is only 18 days away. Check back every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for more suggested pool workouts to prepare you for our 500m qualifying swim in under 9 minutes.

Warm Up
300 swim choice
300 kick IM order
Main Set
3 x 200 swim on 3:50
2 x 150 pull on 2:50
2 x 100 kick on 2:00
2 x 50 0n 0:50
4 x 25 sprint
Warm Down
4 x 50 choice kick
100 easy