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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

Winter Is Here

Water temperature in the 50’s is a game changer. Even our hard core surfers don’t last long with the 3 millimeter wetsuits most Texans wear, and the only swimmers we encounter seem to be Russian or Canadian.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and got to spend time with people they care about. This is always a great time to reflect on things we’re grateful for. I personally feel really appreciative of the hard work our staff did this season, the support of all the groups we work with and the community of Galveston, and the chance to slow down for a bit, recharge the batteries, and fill in some details that we couldn’t get to during the busy season.

We’re almost at the end of our patrol season with this weekend being the last where we’re proactively out there checking the beaches for a while. Most of our crew has been working hard refurbishing our 28 lifeguard towers while alternating the days they take a patrol shift. They’ve also been doing one last pass of replacement and repair of the 300 or so signs we maintain along 33 miles of beachfront. But starting December 1st everyone will focus on finishing the towers up so they can spend the remaining time until everyone is able to work on individual projects.

Each of our full time supervisors has an area of responsibility that they take full charge of. There is a window of time from late December until March 1st when they have time to get the bulk of this work done. Some of the areas are board and craft repair/maintenance, website upgrades, virtual lifeguard museum, recruiting/water safety video projects, policy and procedure manual updates, training material preparation, and ordering supplies and equipment.

One major change we are trying to make is to move to an almost completely paperless system. We recently purchased computers for each vehicle so reports can be done while overseeing a zone of responsibility. We’re getting close to purchasing an electronic records management system for storage and easy retrieval of reports and other documents. My hope is that by 2016 we can operate with 90% digital files and documents.

There’s an upcoming event that I wanted to mention. We’ll follow up with more details, but the annual public safety Christmas parade is scheduled for Saturday, December 13th in the morning. This event has been growing and has been a fun X-mas holiday kick off. It’s been a nice way for first responders from different agencies to show our community how appreciative we are for the support we receive. Also it’s an opportunity for the community to show support for everything these hard working public safety organizations’ men and women do.

From all of us at the Galveston Beach Patrol we hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. Hopefully you’ll have the time and opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the things and people that are most important to you.

Aloha Doc

As a wide eyed 16 year old surfer, I made my first pilgrimage to the west coast in 1980. I flew into LAX and hitchhiked down the California coast while camping, absorbing the west coast lifestyle of the day, and surfing at all the famous spots I’d read about in the magazines. During that trip I was fortunate (or destined) to meet one of the biggest heroes in lifesaving, surfing, and Galveston history.

I was sitting on the beach at San Onofre after surfing the morning at Trestles, which is just south of San Clemente. An older man came up and started talking to me. Normally while traveling alone you’d be a little wary about strangers but there was something in this guy’s demeanor that caused me to instantly trust him. He was soft spoken and unassuming but had a real presence. We fell into an easy conversation, and he was excited that I was from Galveston like him. He invited me to eat with his family. Turns out, his family was huge and ran a surf school right there on the beach, where they seemed to be permanently camping. One was nicer than the other, and only later would I realize I was meeting a whole tribe of living legends. The surf school was the world renowned Paskowitz Surfing Camp.

Surfing, Lifesaving, and Galveston lost one of its greatest legends recently with the passing of Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, who was the elderly gentleman who’d sensed my loneliness and been so kind to me.

Born the son of Russian and Jewish immigrants on March 1921 right here in Galveston, Doc rode his first wave at age 12 and never stopped surfing throughout his long life. As a young teen he moved to San Diego where he worked as a lifeguard at Mission Beach. In 1946 he graduated at Stanford Medical School and eventually made his way to Israel with the mission of trying to get “Jews and Arabs to surf together”. Kelly Slater, who is touted as the greatest surfer to ever live, said that Doc “…believed that those who surfed together could live together peacefully”.

After coming back to California he practiced what many believe is the true spirit of surfing and lived with his wife and all nine of his kids in a large surf van for many years. He was a big believer in a healthy lifestyle and touted that throughout his medical career and his commitment to the traditional surfers’ lifestyle of living simply, exercising regularly, and eating well. He once said that “Health is a presence of a superior state of wellbeing, a vigor, a vitality, a pizzazz you have to work for every single day of your life.” He put belief into practice by founding the Paskowitz International Surf School, the Paskowitz surfing Psychiatric Clinic, the Paskowitz Surfing Camp and Surfing for Peace.

“It is easier to die when you have lived than it is to die when you haven’t” – Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz

 

 

Frat Story

The freshman sat in his dorm room on the bed as the 3 older guys formed a semi-circle around him. They all wore khaki pleated pants, button-up shirts tucked in, topsiders, and neatly parted hair; contrasting sharply with the surf shirt, baggy shorts, scruffy hair, and flip flops that the younger guy wore.

“You can’t survive on this campus….” Said the leader in an overly deep voice “…without joining a fraternity. (Long pause here for emphasis). ….And the Chi Delts is the most respected frat on campus. We have the pick of the crop, the best parties, and you’ll come out of college with the most useful connections”. The younger guy laughed and looked up at them and said, “If I choose to join a frat I’ll consider you guys, but right now I’ve got some stuff I need to do”. The older guys looked shocked. One said something about how the younger guy would regret not going to the mixer with them and they filed out to round up other recruits.

The thing is that the young guy grew up in Galveston. And for those of you that grew up here you know what I mean. Kids that come from this environment have a very different set of experiences. Galveston has a long, long history of diversity, tolerance, and worldliness. He had grown up with big beach bonfires, high school fraternities and sororities, exposure to all kinds of different people, friends that were from varied backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and religions.

Most of all, he and his peers had grown up on and around the beach. From beach bonfires on the weekends, surfing, mixing socially with friends’ parents, to long bike rides along the seawall hanging out with all kinds of characters.

For better or worse, kids grow up fast here, but the good thing is that when they leave, they have social tools that other kids don’t have at the same age. They also have a strong core and basic sense of fairness that shines through. You can always recognize who’s from here even if you don’t know them.

Galveston is in a real transitional phase right now. This is normal for a city of this age as power transitions to some extent from dynasties to newer immigrants. New blood and a fresh point of view is a good thing, especially if old values are retained and the end product is a fusion of what’s good in both groups and change is not merely made for its own sake. There is room and need for both camps.

So the conclusion of this story is that the young man did not join the fraternity. But he did end up being friends with many of the fraternity members along with friendships he cultivated in a variety of groups. As a Galvestonian he wasn’t able to limit himself to one type of friends. But thanks to his Galveston roots he was able to look past differences and focus on commonalities.

The Galveston Way.

 

Surf Story

The 10 year old boy lay on his battered surfboard on the west side of the 10th street pier. He had caught a couple of waves by standing besides the board and pushing off the bottom. Now he was a little farther out and was trying to paddle into waves.

He’d had success a couple of times and had caught a couple of rides where he actually stood up, turned and surfed down the wave staying ahead of the white water. He was hooked.

More success increased his confidence and he went farther and farther out after each successful ride. He was about ¾ of the way out to the end when he spotted a pack of surfers just off the edge of the tip of the jetty. He sat up on his board and stared in wonder as one of them caught wave after wave, flowing gracefully. The surfer would take off and make a hard bottom turn that led straight into an off the lip, cutback, or short tube ride. Then he’d meld that seamlessly into another and another maneuver before kicking out right next to the jetty and float effortlessly back out to the end.

The young boy wanted to see more and paddled even further out. As he sat on his board peering over the waves the surfer he’d been watching came screaming down the face of a larger set wave heading right for the boy. Everything happened too fast for the boy to get out of the way and, instead, he ditched his board and dove for the bottom. He grabbed sand and waited to the wave and pointy boards passed over before resurfacing. When he broke through the older man was right in front of him.
“YOU STUPID KOOK!” the man yelled balling up his fist. “I was here first!” he yelled, his little tween voice cracking. The older surfer looked like he was going to hit the boy for a minute, and then seemed to think better of it. Instead he paddled off, a deep gash on his leg trailing blood (which he glued together with crazy glue and kept surfing). He turned, glared at the boy and yelled, “GET OUT OF THE WATER AND GO HOME GROM!”

I learned a lot that day. And now, almost 40 years later, I’m intimately familiar with all the rules I broke. The person on the wave has the right of way. The person closest to the curl has the right of way. The first person to stand up has the right of way. Beginners (“groms”) should stay away from the pier, the rip current, and the pack at the end. And in every surfing pack there’s an “alpha”. That guy or girl gets their choice of waves and should be shown respect at all times.

Nowadays there are more surfers and fewer fights. But the unwritten rules haven’t. Fortunately, it’s a gentler learning process for those versions of the early me out in the water today.

 

Photo Credit: Stan Shebs

Archie

Some people are wired different than others. Some candles burn brighter. Some people are larger than life. Archie Kalepa is such a person.

Archie was the Lifeguard Chief in Maui for quite awhile. We are the same age and knew each other originally through the United States Lifesaving Association and forged a friendship through the years. Archie recently retired his position to become the primary “ambassador” for Olukai sandals and to pursue other interests.

Visiting Archie in Maui is like visiting a prince. Driving through Lahaina with him in his giant monster truck pulling a boat or with an assortment of boards and water toys is almost impossible due to all the people waving, honking, flagging him down, asking favors, or just wanting to chat. But all the attention doesn’t seem to get to him. He stays focused, stays humble, and shows respect to each and every one. He knows every kid that waves as they see him and smiles, yelling “Uncle Archie!” Surfing with him is even better. In a place known for fierce localism, ultra competitive world class surfing, and an overabundance of testosterone in the lineup, you’d expect trouble. But paddling out with Archie gives you a magic shield. Guys that would terrify you in an alley are all smiles and “Your wave brudda”.

This attention has been earned not just by being a nice guy. Archie is a true legend that earned respect in a world full of very accomplished lifeguards, surfers, and athletes by becoming one of the most accomplished watermen on the planet.

His pedigree is impeccable and he comes from a long line of Hawaiian legends. But he carved his own way. Archie first became a local hero when he saved 15 people and one dog during Hurricane Iniki. He was one of the original pioneers in rescue with a personal water craft. In fact, the watercraft rescue program we have here is based on training and materials he, Brian Keaulana and a handful of others provided us.

Outside of lifesaving, he is known as a legendary big-wave surfer. He has performed stunts for Hollywood movies, traveled extensively sharing his knowledge of water rescue, and is one of the few people in existence that is comfortable riding the monster waves of the infamous Maui break “Jaws”. And by “monster” I mean 8 story tall waves! He also is one of a handful of people who pioneered the use of the surf foil and one of the surfers who renewed interest in riding and paddling the stand up paddleboard (SUP), the use of which is sweeping the world now.

As a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Archie has traveled to Tahiti on both the Hokulea and the Hawaiiloa traditional voyaging canoes, and is dedicated to resurrecting interest in the traditional Hawaiian sport of canoe surfing.

You can meet Archie this Sunday. Around 5pm, Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties and Olukai Sandals are sponsoring an intimate meet & greet followed by live music at Galveston’s own Beach Hut.

See you there!