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The Galveston Island Beach Patrol Family

At our National Lifeguarding Championships in Virginia Beach I was suddenly hit with a moment of clarity that was close to a revelation.

Just like is often the case here in Galveston, there were so many things going on all at once. We had athletes from the Junior Guard program, U19, open, and age group competing. In addition to these incredibly talented athletes from 10 to 70+ years of age, we had a sponsor appreciation party, numerous events for the athletes, a celebration of life/ paddle out ceremony for several lifeguard chiefs who have recently passed away, and we had the privilege of giving out an award to a group of brave US Marines who saved a group of kids from drowning.

I was thinking about all of this, and it suddenly hit me what a comprehensive web we all collectively weave, both in Galveston, nationally, and internationally. Locally, we are so much more than a collection of beach lifeguards, and lifeguard support teams. We are a large, comprehensive safety net. And we are a family. The Galveston Beach Patrol Family. That family includes guards, Junior Guards and their parents, Wave Watchers, Survivor Support Network, partner public safety groups, Park Board and City of Galveston departments, the media, the larger Galveston community and many more.

Many enter as very young children in the Junior Guard Program. They learn about the ocean, build an ocean and rescue skill set, and learn how to use it to help others. They may continue as guards, volunteers, athletes, coaches, sponsors, administrators, and more. Hundreds devote uncountable hours and energy to prevent accidents, save lives, educate the public, acknowledge service and heroism inside and outside of the family with our cousin groups, mentor newer and younger members, and to support each other in so many ways. This is way beyond what would or could be done out of a feeling of obligation or devotion to duty. This must be love.

We love the over 7 million people we protect annually. We love the environment we are so privileged to work in. And like a family, no matter how much we may disagree or argue or butt heads, we love each other. We understand the incredibly difficult role we all have in trying to keep people safe in an environment that is foreign to them, but that we thrive in. We know how hard you must work your entire life to maintain the conditioning and skills that allow you to be the rescuer and not the victim. We know how important even the briefest interaction with a tourist or local can be. And we know how much what you do to get people information on how to be safe before they ever get wet matters.

Thank you to each of you that play a part in the shared mission, and for choosing to be in The Galveston Island Beach Patrol Family.

Lifeguard Sport Competitions

Years ago, the original inhabitants of this part of the world held periodic gatherings which included athletic competitions that highlighted skills needed to survive and thrive. These were opportunities to share information and new ideas, forge and maintain social connections, and renew commitment to a way of life. As open water lifeguards we continued that tradition.

Last weekend a small group of Galveston competitors traveled to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) Gulf Coast Regional Championships in Port Aransas. Representatives from the Cameron County Beach Patrol, the South Padre Island Beach Patrol, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol, and Port Aransas Beach Patrol all participated. Yes, Galveston dominated! But more importantly the next step is during the second week in August, a group of guards from Texas will compete in the United States Lifesaving Association’s National Lifeguard Championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia. For years and years Galveston has been the only group from our region, but now we’ll have four teams which together comprise “Team Texas”.

Open water lifeguarding is unique among the emergency services in that we are able to prevent accidents to a very large extent. So far this year, Galveston lifeguards alone have made over 100,00 preventative actions. That’s 110,000 people moved out of potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations. But there are some things that can’t be prevented. And that’s why our profession also demands the highest level of physical conditioning of all the first responder professions.

When a lifeguard trains he/she is doing much more than staying in shape. Of all the rescues made by Galveston lifeguards last year alone, most were made with minimal equipment. Lifeguards rely heavily on exceptional USLA training, local knowledge, mental and emotional fortitude, and their physical abilities. Every rescue is a race against time, and every guard is an athlete. That’s where competition comes in.

Participating in Lifeguard Sport competitions and daily training sessions hones skills used daily by professional lifeguards and gives lifeguards something to reach for. Lifesaving Sport is also an opportunity to showcase our skills for the public we protect. National competitors are an example for all the guards they work with at their local beach. And the same applies for Junior Lifeguard competitors, many of whom will be the lifeguards and Lifesaving Sport superstars of tomorrow. Locally we have Lifeguard Sport competitions every Sunday for guards and every Friday during the Junior Guard program for JGs throughout the summer, and each guard participates in physical and skills training every day they work before they head out to the towers.

Because of all the prevention, training, lifeguard standards, and public education by USLA and its certified agencies, we boast an impressive statistic. Your chances of drowning in a USLA certified agency’s beach are 1 in 18 million. Galveston faces more challenges than many beaches, but maintaining “Advanced” level certification from USLA means that we are more prepared for the inevitable than many of our counterparts at other beaches.

Sunday Race Day

The sun was just peeking over a horizon and the rough, windblown surf showed pink highlights as we lined up. Legs vibrated and hands showed white knuckles on our racing boards as the call came out, “Paddlers take your mark…. GO!”

The current swept from west to east, but I hedged my bets by lining up on the east side, hoping some of less experienced racers would overcompensate by playing it safe. As we punched through the inside break, to my right was Joe Cerdas and Kevin Anderson. We were first through the inside break and had a bit of a jump on the rest of the pack. But I knew there were some fast people in that group.

I edged up and was in first for a bit. Visions of reclaiming the rescue board race title danced through my 53-year-old head. But then we hit the outside break. Joe and I got nailed by 5 or 6 giant piles of whitewater. In the chaos I saw Kevin clear the break, barely skating around the big set waves, and streak around the first buoy. Finally, Joe and I clawed our way through and rounded the buoy. I expected the pack to have pulled ahead, but most of them had troubles of their own. Taylor Stickline was the exception, and he paddled straight through the outside impact zone unscathed.

I tried to take deep strokes and control my breathing as we headed to the second buoy. Taylor hung tough but angled too far out. I focused and ignored burning muscles, pulling a little ahead of Joe. I still had a chance at 2nd, but I knew Joe is exceptional at catching waves and reading currents, so I was far from in the clear. I rounded the buoy and tried to stroke into an outside wave. I caught it but slid sideways, so only got a short ride. As I recovered and straightened out, Joe flew by on the next wave. Looking behind me, a solid 5-foot monster reared up. It broke hard and I was tossed forward. Somehow, I held on to the handles of my racing board, which was completely sideways, while getting bounced around by the whitewater. I saw a blue board floating on the inside to my left. I assumed Joe had lost his board and that I’d caught him. I snagged a small, foamy inside wave and rode it to shore against a small rip current. But, as I stood up in shallow water, Joe ran by from my right, passing me and sailing through the finish gate. The board I saw belonged to one of the competitors that didn’t make it around the course.

We have two races early each Sunday. Surf racing can be anyone’s bet, which is a huge part of the fun. Speed, training, experience, trickery, and luck are all in play. But there is no way to better hone rescue skills than to push and learn from each other in the conditions you might have to save someone in.

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.

Tryout Time

Lifeguard tryouts are this Saturday!

I’m relieved we’re finally to this point. Spring is always tough for us to staff the beaches since so many of our seasonal employees are either college or high school students. Fortunately, we’ve had a number of our high school guards who have been willing to come out and work the weekends so it’s mostly been the weekdays that have been spotty.

There are several reasons that staffing is a continual challenge. The main one is that beach guarding is hard! Not only is it physically a challenge to pass our swimming, running, and teamwork requirements, but the guards have to go through about 100 hours of tough training before they can “ride the pine” and take their place in a tower. But additionally, beach guards have to work under very challenging conditions in a harsh physical environment. They don’t only work when it’s a sunny, calm, cool day with low crowds. They’re out there when the wind is blasting 30 mph and when the heat index is well over 100. They’re out there when the current is ripping and they have to spend literally half the day in the water keeping swimmers away from rocks and rip currents. They have to deal with obnoxious people, lost kids, injured people and animals, people in crisis who are at their worst, and people who are lost or afraid or panicky.

Many may want to find an easier summer job. But those who are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable and accept the challenge receive plenty of rewards. They get to work in a beautiful environment with an incredibly diverse set of people. They are part of an elite team that is motivated, positive, and inclusive. This team becomes family for most of them. And, perhaps most importantly, they get to go home each day with the knowledge that if they were not there many people would have been hurt or worse. They get to go home knowing that they did their part in making the world a better, safer place and their actions had a direct, positive effect. They may be with people at their worse, but they are also with people at their best for the most part. They are there to celebrate being with family and friends at the beach. And they are there to help when things go bad. This work builds a level of character and confidence that is hard to get elsewhere.

We need guards who are willing to accept the challenge. Tryouts are tomorrow, May 13th at the UTMB Field House at 7am. We’ll start with a 500 meter swim in less than 10 minutes and go from there. We’ll start our lifeguard academy immediately after tryouts. Information is on our website.

If you know anyone at all who may be interested and able to work as a Beach Patrol lifeguard please encourage them to show up tomorrow morning.

It will change their life and save the lives of others.

Summer Event Kick-off

At the time most of you are reading this about 30 Beach Patrol Senior Lifeguards and Supervisors are running along the shoreline of Stewart Beach. It’s an annual timed re-qualification trial required to secure or maintain positions. Following that are mock rescues and medical scenarios, a report writing seminar, and updates/testing on policy and procedure.

While the tower lifeguards go through well over 130 hours of training during their first season,  more demanding higher level positions require an even more elevated skill level. In fact, in addition to what’s listed above and depending on rank, these men and women potentially also complete annual training for EMT, SCUBA, law enforcement, dispatching, tourism ambassadorship, National Incident Management System (NIMS), and critical incident stress management counseling. All that is in addition to the daily training sessions we each do before our daily shifts to keep rescue and medical skills razor sharp.

One of our most daunting challenges each year is that the majority of our 130 or so employees are seasonal workers, many of whom are students. Rescue skills atrophy quickly when not used, so it puts a great deal of pressure on our staff to get all the returning guards trained and retrained to adequate levels before the busiest weekend of the summer- the Memorial Holiday. The next two weeks are a crucible we all have to get though so we can handle the estimated 6 million people we protect annually. The list of events is intimidating.

Our second lifeguard academy starts tomorrow after lifeguard tryouts. If you or someone you know is interested, we will start with a swim trial tomorrow morning, followed by an interview, drug test, and run-swim-run. The 100 hour lifeguard academy starts immediately afterwards and lasts two weeks. Application information regarding Lifeguard and Junior Guard programs is on our website.

Next week we will hold Junior Lifeguard Instructor Training for the elite staff that works with the 10-15 year olds that attend our 6 week long day camp that mirrors our Lifeguard Academy; even to the extent that we train them in CPR, First Aid, and Water Rescue. Of course we make it fun with field trips, marine ecology seminars, sports, games, surfing/boogie boarding, and friendly Lifeguard Sport competition. They even get to spend some time in the lifeguard towers “working” alongside real lifeguards.

On Tuesday, May 17 we’ll be participating in the Hurricane Awareness Tour at Scholes International Field. Public tour period is from 2:30-5:00pm.

Thursday the 19th we’ll join our partners in the Galveston Marine Response to sharpen our rescue and coordination skills in a large mass casualty exercise in Offats Bayou.

The following week we’ll also be involved in our Supervisor Training Academy, Dispatch Training Academy, all staff “Night Swim”, all staff orientation/meeting session, Beach Safety/Rip Current Awareness Week proclamation at City Hall. We’re also going to send a small team down to the Corpus Christi area to help them with some very needed training.

All this set to the backdrop of normal May beach madness!

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