Tag: Stewart Beach

17 Mar
By: Supervisor 0

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!


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08 Mar
By: Supervisor 0

Spring Break Tryouts!

Spring Break is here! We have lifeguard tryouts tomorrow (Saturday) morning at the City of Galveston Pool at Lasker Park at 2016 43rd starting at 7am rain or shine. Those who pass the swim, drug test, and interview will start the same day in the Lifeguard Academy and will be paid for their training time. Information is at www.galvestonbeachpatrol.com

Last week we left off at the end of part two of a 3 part column on lifesaving history in Galveston. We were talking about the late 70’s, when the Galveston Beach Patrol had been switched multiple times between municipal departments, with no real commitment for funding or ownership. High drowning rates became a civil and tourist issue and something needed to be done.

Senator Babe Schwartz, Dr. Jim McCloy, Sheriff Joe Max Taylor and many others all contributed significantly. The result of multiple discussions was that the Sheriff’s department took over management of the Beach Patrol with a start up grant from the Moody Foundation and annual funding of hotel tax funneled through the Park Board of Trustees (thank you Babe!), who also took over management of the beach maintenance and parks.. The formation of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) as a national organization and the modernization and expansion of the Beach Patrol all happened in 1980 at a conference at Texas A&M Galveston orchestrated largely by Dr. Jim McCloy. Through the USLA many lifeguard agencies helped Galveston to modernize the lifeguard service.

Vic Maceo was the Director of the Galveston Beach Patrol from 1983–2007. During his tenure, a formal lifeguard academy was implemented which eventually  included nearly 100 hours of rigorous training. We implemented USLA’s national standards, formed supervisory hierarchy, started our Surf Condition Flag System and became the first beach agency to use staggered shifts to increase coverage for the same money.

In 2007, Vic Maceo retired, passing the torch to Chief Peter Davis. Shortly after that, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol fell solely under the management of the Park Board of Trustees

Today, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol is an elite certified “Advanced Agency” by the USLA. We protect nearly 7 million beach visitors annually. We are the designated lifeguard service for the City of Galveston and certified as a first-responder agency through the Department of Health. A staff of over 130 includes lifeguards, senior guards, supervisors, peace officers, and dispatchers. GIBP also has a Junior Lifeguard Program, with nearly 120 kids participating annually, and around 15 community based programs under its umbrella.

Each year we average 110,000 preventative actions, and 200 rescues. Last year alone we provided safety talks for over 23,000 school kids, responded to approximately 1,700 medical calls and made about the same number of enforcement actions.

Because we stand on the shoulders of so many dedicated predecessors, have such a great staff, and are supported by the Park Board, the City, and the Galveston community, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol is now widely recognized as one the most professional and proactive lifeguard agencies in the United States.

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19 Jan
By: Supervisor 0

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.

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15 Dec
By: Supervisor 0

Cold Foggy Days

The water temperature on the beachfront dropped 12 degrees in 3 days last week. This is a pretty dramatic shift as only a degree or two makes a significant difference when you’re swimming. Because the water is so shallow here on the upper Texas coast the water temperature is constantly changing during the fall and spring. A few warm or cold days can have a big impact. Another factor is when fronts blow through and take the warm water, which sits close to the surface, out to sea which allows the deeper, cooler water to well up.

With recent water temps in the 50’s, getting out on the water requires more foresight and preparation than during warmer months. A quick dip in the water when you’re a couple miles from shore can become a serious thing without proper gear. Kayakers, surfers, kite-boarders, stand-up paddlers, etc. should not only wear a wetsuit, but should have the appropriate wetsuit for the activity and conditions. When at all appropriate it’s a really good idea to not just bring a lifejacket, but to wear it. That way when the unexpected happens you’re able to float and wait for help long after the cold water prevents swimming.

When the air is warm but the water is cold the conditions are ripe for sea fog. This fog can appear all at once or as a white bank that rolls in. Our Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office, one of the best in the country, is very tuned in to the aquatic environment and puts out all kinds of relevant marine warnings. Last week there was a fog advisory, but localized fog can happen without warning. Rescue workers from all agencies associated with the “Galveston Marine Response” coalition as well as the Coast Guard are kept busy when kayakers and boaters get lost in fog in West Bay and the San Luis Pass areas. Some can be really close to shore, but have no idea where they are.

Aside from proper attire and a Coast Guard approved lifejacket there are a few other things you should do before getting on the water. First, be sure someone has very specific and accurate information about where you’re going and what times you’ll be out. Having participated in hundreds of searches for people, I can tell you the better starting point a rescuer has, the more likely he/she is to locate the missing person. Make sure your cell phone is charged and in a waterproof case. If you have a smart phone, there are apps that can help you find your way around, but don’t rely on electronics! A small watch compass has gotten me out of a jam more than once when I was training on my surf ski a couple miles from shore and a fog bank rolled in.

Most importantly, take a moment to think of all the things that could go wrong before getting out there, and then plan accordingly. Remember that “Murphy’s Law” is twice as likely to apply when on the water!

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08 Dec
By: Supervisor 0

Beach Front Improvements

As a teenager, when I had free time one of my favorite things to do was ride my bike on the seawall. In the late 70’s and early 80’s the beach was a big deal. Everyone I knew would ride bikes or hang out up there. Lifeguards and surfers ruled the day.

As you’d ride along the wall you’d see pockets of people you knew sitting in the shade on benches that were part of planter boxes filled with palm trees. You’d stop and talk, then ride on to the next group. You’d run into friends on their bikes and ride with them for awhile. On Sundays all the high school sororities would haze their pledges and make them paint their faces, sing songs, crack eggs in each other’s hair and generally entertain the crowd that would always gather. Public bathrooms were spaced periodically along the way as well. On days with surf I’d ride to my favorite spot with my board tucked under my arm and check out other spots on the way.

Part of the popularity of the beach during those years was a piece of a bigger puzzle related to the economy, trends in recreational activity, and a natural pendulum swing that happens with all kinds of cultural relationships, sports, popularity of specific things at a given time, etc. But a big part was because the environment was so nice up there. It was safe and cared for by the city and county. Once it was used by some, they attracted many.

Almost 40 years went by without any improvements to the beach front. The seawall itself was maintained but economic times and political priorities changed. We are lucky to have a beach because we still had beach related tourism, but it wasn’t what it could be.

And suddenly there’s been a shift. Starting maybe a decade ago there began to be a groundswell of awareness that people have way more options for recreation than they did back in the day and we need to work to keep our tourist economy healthy. A good product attracts repeat customers more than anything else. Things started changing. I have to take my hat off to our leaders in the City of Galveston, Park Board of Trustees, County, and other governmental bodies for what’s happening and what has already happened on the beach front currently.

As you drive down the seawall, you now see first class restrooms and landscaping being installed. But you also see giant wide beaches extending way farther than ever before, tasteful lighting, crossovers in key areas, and a process where tourists contribute to continued maintenance, and more to come.

According to a study commissioned a few years back by the Park Board, each dollar you put into the beach for improvements, protection, sand nourishment, etc. brings 7 back to the community. It’s so wonderful to see our leaders planning for our future instead of reacting to whatever the crisis at hand is. And it’s encouraging to see a community taking care of a resource that provides us so much in return.


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13 Mar
By: Josh Hale 0

Aloha Pat

We’re all really mad at that groundhog that it doesn’t feel like spring, but this weekend is the start of the biggest spring break weekend. The Beach Patrol’s pace accelerates rapidly because the first wave of our seasonal lifeguards come back and do their annual requalification swim and other requirements and head out to the lifeguard towers.

Tomorrow morning is also a tryout day followed by the start of a 9 day lifeguard academy immediately afterward. If you know someone that’s interested it’s not too late for them to meet us at 7am at the UTMB Field House. Information is available on our website.

Our fulltime staff has done a fantastic job of getting everything ready for the beach season. The Park Board Beach Maintenance Department put the towers out on the beach for us and our crew has taken care of the last details of proper signage, flag poles, etc so they’d be ready for the guards. They’ve also gone out and done another round of maintenance on the 300 signs that we maintain along all 33 miles of beachfront- no easy task in the weather we’ve been having. There’s a great deal of prep work that goes into preparing everything for the lifeguard academy, which is a pretty involved deal involving Red Cross and United States Lifesaving Association certifications, along with all the scheduling of facilities and instructors and revising course materials. But it’s all done (and much more) and we’re ready.

We’re starting the season off on a sad note this year. Pat McCloy, a long time Beach Patrol supporter, died early this week. She and her late husband Dr. Jim McCloy of Texas A&M Galveston were always there for us and for many other groups on the island. We’re helping her close friend and former Director of Beach Patrol, Vic Maceo, to organize a paddle out ceremony at around 2pm today at Stewart Beach, which is open to anyone who is interested. Several years ago we participated in a similar one at the same spot for Jim. Friends of Pat and Jim, lifeguards, beach people and others will follow the Polynesian tradition and paddle boards to a point offshore and make a circle. We will then put her ashes in the water along with flowers. There will be prayers, stories, or silence as we say goodbye/aloha to Pat and watch her ashes dissolve in the same waters that hold her lifelong partner’s. They were real ocean lovers and inseparable in life. It seems fitting that they will finally rejoin in the water. Thank you from all of us Pat and travel well in the next phase of your journey.

As lifeguards and rescuers we know we can’t dwell long on the past or even the future. We need to be present and focused when the tourists arrive and need us to help them get home safely. Pat of all people would understand this and cheer us onward into a new beach season.

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02 Oct
By: Josh Hale 0

Fall and G-Bay

You can feel summer slipping away. It’s not just the cooler temperatures and the fact that we’re starting to see frontal systems push all the way through. There’s something in the light, the shorter days and the look of the surface of the water that is just different.

Last Sunday was the last day of the year for John’s Beach Service at Stewart Beach. Max Wilson has been working for decades along with his brother Walter. It’s a model business that runs like clockwork. Part of the winning formula is to not change what works. They open each year on Good Friday and close the last Sunday of September. They dig the holes at 7:30am and the umbrellas come off the beach at 5pm. Like the birds that migrate south, Max leaves just after they close to travel the world. For many years he went all over the place. But countries are like people and people are attracted to both like-minded people and countries. Max spends the majority of his off season in Australia. But for me, Max leaving is as much a portent of fall as the cooler weather.

For me this signifies the best time of the year. The beaches are beautiful and empty. The weather is still warm but more comfortable. And the burden of managing a staff of over 100 millennials and a day camp of nearly 100 teens and pre-teens is lifted somewhat. I love them but am happy to have some time that involves more planning than in crisis-management. I also like the way that without all the distraction of crowds it feels like we can see the beach and all the wildlife again.

Tuesday will be our very last day for working seasonal guards. Stewart Beach Park’s last day is Sunday and East Beach is already closed for the season. The lifeguard towers will be picked up mid week and moved to a central location so our staff can refurbish them during the winter months. But we still have plenty of guarding to do. Our full time staff of 9 will be working double time to cover the beaches from the rescue trucks and will continue to patrol until December. Then in February we’ll start again although, like always, we’ll continue to provide emergency response to 911 calls year round.

Last weekend was the G-Bay Paddle that was based at Moody Gardens and happened in Offats Bayou. This event was held for the second time and nearly doubled in size since last year. It is a day of racing Stand Up Paddleboards (S.U.P.s) and kayaks. Beach Patrol and the Galveston Police Department Marine Division provided the water security and Galveston EMS handled the medical coverage. It went pretty well. We only rescued one person who ended up being ok after a little attention from EMS. The sport of S.U.P. is taking off in leaps and bounds and we should expect to see more of this type of event in the near future.


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20 Jun
By: Josh Hale 0

Herd Immunity

Three girls played in the shallow water of Stewart Beach while one of their moms watched attentively from the water’s edge. There were two eight year olds and one ten year old. The taller of the eight year olds and the 10 year old have been on the Galveston Island Swim Team and were very accustomed to the beach. The shorter of the 8 year olds, while able to swim, had not been around the water as much as her friends.

As the day wore on the girls felt more and more comfortable and drifted farther and farther out. Eventually they were up to their chests and were having fun splashing each other and diving under the gentle waves. The mom watching from shore was a little concerned but the girls seemed to know what they were doing. Although they’d gotten farther from shore they weren’t as far out as lots of the other children swimming in the area.

At almost the same moment that the mom turned around briefly to get a water from their cooler, the shortest of the girls was pushed off of the sandbar by a wave. Unable to stand up, she panicked and tensed up. Tensing up caused her to sink and she started to kick and paddle really hard with her arms and legs. She quickly tired and started dipping under the water.

Fortunately, the remaining two girls were only a few feet away and the other 8 year old quickly swam over and grabbed the struggling girl’s arm and swam her a few feet to the 10 year old. The 10 year old was able to stand and wrapped the girl in a bear hug and walked her closer to shore. The mom was already on the way out to meet them.

All in all it was a pretty minor event. It ended up OK but it could have been more severe. The parent did all the right things. She was sober, attentive, and picked a spot right by the lifeguard so they’d have that extra layer of protection. But it shows how quickly things can go bad when you’re in the water.

We talk about layers of protection a lot. An attentive parent is a layer. A lifeguard is a layer. But in this case it was a third layer that may have kept something bad from happening. This little girl was with two friends that were good swimmers. This is called “herd immunity” in epidemiological terms. A child surrounded by other kids that have been “vaccinated” with swimming ability and water safety info has less a chance of drowning.

So, in conclusion, let me plug our BBQ fundraiser tonight at 24th and Postoffice from 6-10. Good food, good music, pro surfers with Hurley showing a new surf video, and a silent auction. It’s a chance to surround yourself with lifeguards and beach people. It’s the beach party of the year and with that much herd immunity I can practically guarantee you won’t drown!

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