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Go Texas Beaches!

Some exciting things to do with ocean safety are happening in Texas right now.

Galveston has had some type of lifeguard protection for recreational swimmers since just a few years after 1900. This isn’t the case for most of the Texas coast. For many years the beaches of South Padre Island didn’t have any type of lifeguard protection at all. Now there are two lifeguard services on South Padre Island, one for the city of South Padre Island and one for Cameron County. We helped them both get off the ground a few years ago, and they eventually joined and became certifying agencies for the United States Lifesaving Organization (USLA). The USLA is America’s nonprofit professional association of beach lifeguards and open water rescuers . The USLA works to reduce the incidence of death and injury in the aquatic environment through public education, national lifeguard standards, training programs, promotion of high levels of lifeguard readiness, and other means.

The Corpus Christi area is another story. Both the city of Corpus and that of Port Aransas have had some type of lifeguard organization for a number of years. Although they never had the structure, resources, and quality of the Galveston Beach Patrol, back in the early 90’s they were fairly well organized and we even had competitions and other types of interaction with them for a brief period. They’ve gone through several changes- some political and some related to resources, but overall seem to have declined over the past few years. That seems to be at an end. For a long time they have been using a Red Cross pool certification for their lifeguards. The formal training they’ve received does not prepare them for working the beach. It is also way below what the national standard is. Not only is this a liability for the cities, but is a disservice for the lifeguards and the people they protect. Making a rescue in the ocean is really dangerous even if you’re properly trained, equipped, and meet a high level of swimming and fitness requirement.

The Corpus group recently hired a new lifeguard chief who was one of the people we trained down in South Padre. He and his boss have applied for their agency to join USLA and plan on implementing training that meets the national standard that USLA sets this spring. They invited us down to teach a “train the trainers” course at the end of this month and were open to including the Port Aransas group in the course. The Port Aransas group is also applying to USLA and is planning the same. They may even have joint training courses for the two groups in the late spring.

The big picture is that now, as long as Texans choose a beach with lifeguards, they will get protection that meets the USLA national standard. USLA statistics show that your chance of drowning at a beach with USLA certified guards is 1 in 18 million. That’s a good deal for Texas.

Veracruz Training Wrap-up

At 7:15 our little band stood in the lobby of the Hotel Louis rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and filing into the van of the “Proteccion Civil” (Mexican equivalent of Emergency Operations). By 7:45 we were in the auditorium provided to us as a classroom for the 60 students of the lifeguard academy.

It was the last full day in Veracruz. The culmination of 60 hours of training over a 6 day period. We were tired to the bone after all the teaching and mandatory extracurricular activities that were required of us by Mexican customs and the formalities required of a delegation from Veracruz’s sister city.

From the written test we went directly to the beach and the large group was quickly divided into a subset of 4. Smaller groups of around 15 participated in 4 separate scenarios on the beach. Two were simulated medical emergencies that were designed to happen on the shoreline and the other two were water emergencies, which were complicated by the 8 foot surf. By 11:30, thanks to the help from some additional volunteers, we’d run the scenarios and done a debriefing to talk about the good and bad responses to the simulated emergencies. After the daily mandatory group photo shots and autograph sessions protocol dictated, we ate a hasty meal that our host brought us. Then we and reunited with a couple of members of our group who were assigned the arduous task of grading the 60 exams and putting the scores in the course matrix alongside the swim, run, attendance, teamwork, and first aid/CPR course columns. To receive certification from the International Lifesaving Federation- Americas Region they had to pass all of the columns. 26 ended up passing and the others received an acknowledgement of participation in the course, and in some cases a certification in first aid and CPR.

The completion ceremony filled the municipal hall of Veracruz and there were high ranking officials present from the mayor to an admiral in the Navy to the heads of both tourism and civil protection for the state. The mayor is the son of the mayor that was there when Galveston and Veracruz formed their sister city relationship, and that relationship is clearly very important to the entire city. We were treated like royalty by everyone we came into contact with.

We actually got two glorious hours off to change, rest and prepare for the big celebration. At the celebration we distributed second had buoys, whistles, fins, lifeguard competition shirts, Galveston stickers and other things we brought to donate. Nothing goes to waste down there.

Hopefully the training will come in handy to the 14 groups from all over the state in the upcoming couple of weeks. Carnival starts today and they expect around 2 million people to visit the city alone in the next week. Semana Santa (Easter) follows shortly after and it just as big. They’ll definitely have their hands full.

Our crew returned Sunday exhausted but with renewed commitment. Our own challenges start shortly.

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

South Padre Island Competition

The drive to South Padre is long. After 5 hours or so we pulled into a truck stop to get some gas. It was over 100 degrees and the wind was blasting at nearly 30mph. Cowboys gawked as we got out of our lifeguard truck piled high with boards, buoys, flags and other competition equipment.

The next morning we arrived at Isla Blanca County Park just after 6am to a beautiful day. We were greeted by a bunch of enthusiastic young lifeguards who were really helpful as we set up a water course with 10 flags that corresponded to the 10 flags on PVC posts along the shoreline.

The Gulf Coast Regional Championships started off with a run, followed by a run-swim-run, rescue board race, 4X100 meter beach relay, swim rescue, rescue board rescue, and a game of beach flags. Three teams were represented: Galveston Beach Patrol, South Padre Island Beach Patrol, and Cameron County Beach Patrol. There was a 15 minute break between each race and the marshaling for the next one. As the day wore on, more and more people crowded around to see what was going on. This was the first time an event like this has been held on SPI and everyone wanted to know all about it. Isla Blanca was the perfect venue with several thousand people already at the park on this busy Sunday.

Because we couldn’t spare many guards we only went down there with three people. Along with me were Kevin Anderson and Amie Hufton who are both good athletes and experienced competitors. Despite this, Kevin and I were surprised to see two of the younger guards blast off during the swim and beat us to the finish line by a few seconds. We got our game face on but still had some little dude beat us in the paddle. Meanwhile Amie won the women’s run, got 2nd in the swim, and won the paddle. Kevin and I finally got it together and won both the swim rescue and the rescue board rescue by a big margin. By 1pm we wrapped everything up with Team Galveston winning 5 firsts, 3 seconds, 4 thirds, and 2 fourths.

From there we caught a quick lunch and then joined the city lifeguards in a 3 kilometer paddle that ended in a fundraising party. I’d spend quite a bit of time down there a few years back helping both groups set up lifeguard services and it was good to catch up with friends and acquaintances  from that time that are involved with city and county government, lifesaving, and surfing. But we were all definitely glad to crawl into our beds in the hotel and I think we were all sound asleep by 10pm!

5 years ago there were no lifeguards in South Padre island. Now the county has 45 guards and the city has 25 and they have joined the United States Lifesaving Association. Many lives have been saved and will be saved.