The System

There’s been quite a bit of talk lately about the relationship between the city and the Park Board. When the Park Board was originally formed, it was intended to be a vehicle for tourism management. The beach, being Galveston’s primary attraction and driver of tourism, was a big part of that equation. It’s tough to talk about the relationship between the city and Park Board without including the management of the beaches, namely Beach Patrol, Beach Maintenance, and Beach Parks Departments. No matter how nice the attractions, hotels, and restaurants on the island may be, they would have a tough time staying afloat if they were located in the desert.

Making sure the beach is clean and safe is an integral part of the tourist experience. If there was a general perception that the beaches were not well maintained and well protected, tourists would not come in the numbers they do now. If they didn’t visit the beach, they wouldn’t be on the island to stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, shop in stores, or visit any of the wonderful amenities the island has to offer. Creative and comprehensive advertising is important, but it only works for the long term if you have a good product to promote. A clean and safe beach with decent amenities is the best advertising there is.

To make sure the beaches were managed properly, in the very early 80’s a highly intelligent group of people figured out a system that enabled us to have adequate resources to keep the beaches maintained and protected by a first class lifeguard outfit. Lifeguards and Beach Maintenance were moved under the Park Board of Trustees. Actually financial management fell under the Park Board but operational oversight of the Beach Patrol was moved from the Police Department to the Sheriff Department at the same time the funding source changed (Nowadays, the Beach Patrol is a mature organization and is an independent lifesaving and law enforcement entity). Using tourist dollars that came to the Park Board in the form of hotel tax (H.O.T.) monies and beach user fees guaranteed this independent funding source because the money came with the caveat that it could only be used for specific purposes. Beach Patrol received one penny for every dollar spent in the hotels.

When the first large beach nourishment project happened, Beach Patrol received an extra half a penny of hotel revenue to help cover the increase of beach use the new sand enabled. But a decade and a half ago, about a third of a penny (22% of the Beach Patrol’s H.O.T. allocation) was taken from Beach Patrol and Beach Maintenance to help build the Convention Center on the Seawall. How this affected the operational sustainability of both programs is another story, but the upside of using H.O.T. tax monies and beach user fees is that, in theory, as tourism grows the two programs could grow proportionally.

We all owe a lot to the group that designed this system.

 

Tri Swim Tips

This Sunday the 21st is the big triathlon day at Moody Gardens. The Lone Star Spring and the Ironman are great events 5150 kick off early in the morning. There’s info at http://5150.com/race/5150galveston if you want to register or find out the details. Great event if you’re able to go watch.

The longer race has a swim of 1.5 Kilometers, or just under a mile. The short race has a swim of about 500 meters, which is the equivalent of 10 laps/20 lengths in a 25 meter pool. The Galveston Island Beach Patrol provides the water security for the two races each year and it’s a big undertaking making sure everyone gets through the course safely.

Part of the challenge is how popular the sport of Triathlon has gotten and thus how many people are new to it. This means that a huge percentage of the swimmers are swimming in open water for the first time and don’t know if they can make it all the way through the course. People who can barely complete the distance in a pool, or aren’t even sure if they can make that distance at all, jump in with hundreds of others and go for it. We’ll rescue scores of people, who panic, have cramps, get exhausted, etc. on Sunday. But it’s easy to prevent it with a few simple tips about open water swimming.

First of all, you should be able to swim at least double the distance in a pool that you plan on swimming in open water. Second, if the water is cold enough to wear a wetsuit you should. Not only is it faster, but a layer of neoprene adds a lot of flotation which means you essentially are bringing a lifejacket with you. Third, in open water you don’t usually get to touch bottom so you want to go a little slower than you might try to go in a pool. Conserving a little air and strength gives you a margin for error that makes it easier to recover if you hit some chop or get smacked by someone’s foot by accident. The extra buoyancy of salt water will help as well. Another good trick is that if you’re not a strong swimmer it’s not a bad idea to line up on the side of your swim wave so you don’t get knocked around when everyone is starting off and not yet spread out. You’ll actually do better as a strong swimmer by lining up in the middle of the pack because if you get behind a group of slightly faster swimmers you can benefit from getting sucked along in their draft. Finally a great tip is to look up every few strokes as you breathe (eyes first, breath second). Even if this slows you a little you’ll be faster overall because you’ll swim a straighter course.

Most importantly we have a great bunch of guards. If you get in trouble stay calm and hold up your hand. We’ll be there.

 

 

Clear Water

The orange ball of the sun balanced on the horizon line, mirrored in the glassy water. The world was silent, except for the faint sound of the surf ski slicing through the water, and occasional gulls as they flew by.

When the water is glass, a surf ski, which is essentially just a skinny fast kayak, really comes into its own as you skim across the water. As I settled into my workout, I fell out of time for awhile until, much later, movement caught my eye. The sun was a bit higher and I was about a mile or so offshore paddling parallel to the island when I noticed shadows passing beneath me. As I looked closer, I realized the water was exceptionally clear and I could see a school of cow-nosed rays passing beneath me. A few minutes later I saw more and then again more. All in all I must have seen 40 or 50 of them.

I like training early on the beach. An empty beach is a really different thing than a crowded midday one. You see things you’d never notice when the press of humanity and the operational needs of the Beach Patrol combine. This past week has been extraordinary because we’ve had some of that rare, super clear water we only get from time to time. While swimming in 10 feet of water you’ve been able to see the ripples of the sand on the bottom. While paddling a board you can see fish below the surface. The only bad part is that for those who spend a bunch of time in the water it’s a bit unnerving to actually see all the animals that you know are there, but don’t have to think about because you rarely see them.

Just the right set of conditions of a gentle east wind causing a slight east to west current with no surf came together to make this happen. The seaweed even stopped coming in, at least temporarily. I’ve noticed the few beachgoers we’ve had the past few days often wade out to shoulder deep water and stop for long periods looking down at their toes and small fish swimming around.

One of the good and bad things about living here is that it’s such a dynamic environment. The bad part is this beautiful water will be gone soon. But the good part is that we’ll be seeing cooler weather, maybe some surf, and soon this mosquito infestation will be over!

The weekends will still be busy for quite some time but the weekdays in the fall are finally here. Locals, this is your chance. Time to go to the beach without all the hubbub and be reminded that one of the best things about living here is the ability to enjoy this incredible environment we all take too much for granted.

Even if you don’t go to the beach it’s now safe to drive down the seawall. At least on the weekdays when drivers stay in their own lanes for a change!

End of Summer

“Good Morning. Ma’am, do you mind hopping down out of our lifeguard tower?”

“Why?”

“The towers are there for the lifeguards and we prefer other people don’t sit in them.

“That’s ridiculous.”

“There’s a sign right next to where you’re sitting saying ‘no trespassing’, so it would be the same as sitting in someone else’s house and refusing to leave.”

“Well then I guess I’ll leave. But I’m leaving the beach in that case. It’s too hot out here!”

Late in the summer it seems that people just get frayed. There are more complaints, arguments, fights, and weird things happening than earlier in the season. It’s like the veneer of civility gets burned away by the heat and sun and all the raw emotions people usually have tamped down come boiling to the surface. It can be a challenge, but if I have my head right it can be wildly entertaining. I especially like it when people seem to feel that they have their own little bubble of rules that differ from everyone else.

“Excuse me sir, do you mind putting your dog on a leash?”

“Why?”

“Galveston has a city ordinance requiring dogs to wear leashes. Also, there have been instances where dogs have been off a leash and…..” (you get the idea)

Then it goes into a whole list of reasons that all generally have the same theme that this particular case should be exempt from the rules. Some of the best ones are: “he’s really friendly and loves people”, “she just likes chasing birds and hardly ever bites anyone”, “I have him for protection”, or, my personal all-time favorite, “my dog is on a verbal leash”.

The other common technique that can be fun is the “stall technique”. We open with something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m sorry but you can’t use a tent or tarp in this area. You can, however, use it on the other side of those blue poles” And from there it goes a little something like this:

“What?”

“Can you please move your tarp to the other side of those blue poles?”

“I have to move my tarp?”

“Yes”

“Where?”

“To the other side of the blue poles”

“So…. I can’t have my tarp here?”

After it runs on for a while like that, they realize that even if you keep asking the response is the same. Then they might move it. Or if you’re lucky they might go into the previous technique and point out that they need shade more than other people because…..

End of summer grumbling aside, we got through the weekend pretty well. Despite the weird weather we still had moderate crowds out in the rough surf conditions. We moved about 520 people from dangerous areas, made four rescues, and a number of enforcement actions. Busy, but not like a holiday weekend would traditionally be.

It’s been a busy summer and I don’t think any of my staff minded ending the high season with a whimper as opposed to a bang!

 

 

Main Image
Seaside Heights, New Jersey
Hypnotica Studios Infinite from Toms River, New Jersey, USA

Labor Day Advisory

With Labor Day upon us we’re expecting several hundred thousand people to be on the island this weekend. That’s a lot of chances to have something go wrong.

Over the past couple of weeks there have been several rescues that we’ve had to make by the rock jetties despite our best efforts to keep people far enough away to avoid trouble. There have also been a couple of incidents involving young children in area pools that nearly drowned and two men drowned in the San Luis Pass area while boating from the Brazoria County side. Most or all of these incidents happened at least partly due to momentary lapses in judgment.

People do things when on vacation or out recreating that they would never do in their normal life. Parents who no doubt are very attentive to their children lose them repeatedly at our large beach parks. We can have up to 60 lost kids in a single day at Stewart Beach alone. People who are not generally risk takers swim far from shore and/or pay no attention to warning signs, flags, or lifeguard instructions. Are the parents bad parents? Are the people ignoring safety messages intentionally? Not in my opinion.

All of us get in a different mindset when we’re away from our routine and when we do something fun. We throw caution to the wind and immerse ourselves in the sea and sand and fun. This is good to a point and that point is sometimes the shoreline. Water is not our natural element. Things can go wrong quickly in the water so it only takes a momentary lapse of judgment or seconds of inattention for things to break bad.

But is doesn’t have to be that way. Taking a moment to observe your surroundings at the beach or pool does a lot. Asking someone who is knowledgeable, like a lifeguard, what to watch for before getting wet means that you greatly reduce your chances of an accident.

When you go out this weekend to enjoy any type of water remember to take a minute to be aware of your surroundings and potential risk. You also want to remember the basics like not swimming alone, staying hydrated, protecting yourself from the sun, observing signs and flags, feet first first time, alcohol and water don’t mix, and non-swimmers  and children should wear lifejackets. At the beach, you should also avoid swimming in areas where rip currents are likely, like near piers and jetties. These are protected by lifeguards and clearly marked with bilingual, iconic signage.

Choose to swim in areas protected by lifeguards. In beaches guarded by United States Lifesaving Association lifeguards, like Galveston, your chances of drowning are 1 in 18 million.

But above all, YOU are responsible for the safety of both yourself and your family. Lifeguards provide an extra layer of protection in case your safety net lapses temporarily.

Enjoy the Labor Day weekend. You deserve it. See you on the beach!

Late Summer Safety

Late summer brings some real significant changes to the beachfront that can impact what you need to do to stay safe. In spring and Early to mid-summer we are almost overwhelmingly concerned with rip currents and keeping people out of them. As we move into hotter weather and calmer water conditions other concerns come into play as well. With a few safety precautions you can avoid most or all of these.

To be clear, rip currents are the primary safety concern on the beach year round. The current running perpendicular to shore that is generally found near the rock groins is a constant hazard. It pulls offshore and takes sand with it leaving a trough. Even on the calmest of days you want to avoid swimming or wading near structures that stick out into the water, obey warning signs, and swim near a lifeguard that will remind you if you slip up. If caught in a rip, stay calm, call or wave for help, and just float. If you’re a good swimmer, swim parallel to shore until you get out of the rip current and then to shore. If someone else is caught in one don’t go in after them. Call 911 or signal a guard, throw a float or rope and/or extend a reaching object to them.

But now that we’re in a calmer weather pattern and the heat has hit be sure and take precautions for the heat and sun. Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing, apply sunscreen with a high SPF rating, wear protective glasses with a high UVA and UVB protection, drink plenty of fluid, and seek shade periodically. If you feel weak, dizzy, or disoriented and have paler than normal, clammy skin you may be suffering from heat exhaustion. Get cool and out of the sun, drink fluids, and self-monitor. If left unchecked this can lead to heat stroke, which is an extreme emergency. If you stop sweating and have hot, dry skin and a reduced level of consciousness it’s critical that you cool down and get to a hospital as soon as possible.

When the water gets calm lots of critters can move closer to shore unmolested by heavy wave action. We’ve seen a drastic increase in stingray hits the past couple of weeks, including a couple of lifeguards. The barbs are loaded with nastiness and usually break off under the skin causing certain infection. Treatment is lots of heat on the puncture site which alleviates the pain rapidly. You should always seek medical care so they can check if there’s a broken off piece of the barb in there and start you on a course of antibiotics. The good thing about stingrays is that they’re easily avoided. Shuffling your feet when in shallow water lets sting rays and a bunch of other critters know you’re in the area so they can make a quick getaway. After all, if some giant, weird looking creature tried to step on you, wouldn’t you fight back however you could?

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.

Drowning Prevention for the City of Galveston

Swimming Safety- English

Swimming Safety- Spanish

 

For a downloadable version of the brochure, click here.

Ben Carlson

Ben Carlson, a 32 year old lifeguard from Newport Beach went out on a fairly routine rescue last week just off Balboa Peninsula. He jumped off the back of a rescue boat and made contact with his victim just as a big set of waves hit both men in the impact zone.

Ben was a very experienced waterman. He competed in beach lifeguard events regularly, was a big wave surfer, and a high level college swimmer. He was one of the top athletes that worked for Newport Beach, which is in the epicenter of USLA lifesaving talent. Throughout his decade and a half career he made several hundred rescues.

The waves were reportedly 6-8 foot, which means the wave that hit him likely had a 12 foot face. Other lifeguards were able to rescue the victim when he surfaced, but Ben didn’t come back up. Any water rescue is very risky. One small thing like getting poked in the neck or choking on water can mean the difference between the rescuer surviving or not making it. But with that much water moving around there’s a million ways that rescue could have gone wrong.

One of my best friends is Rob Williams, who is Chief of the Newport Beach lifeguard service. We’ve known each other for years through the United States Lifesaving Association. Currently he is the Treasurer and I’m the Vice President. He, their Beach Patrol, and the community is going though one of the worst things that can happen to a group- the loss of a hero. From the sound of it Ben was everything you’d want in someone to represent your community. I hope we never have to go through that here. Rob and I have had several conversations about the inherent risks of the job, how many people our beaches deal with annually and the odds of something like this happening.

Lifeguards from all over California, surfers from the region, Ben’s family and friends, and many others participated in a traditional “paddle out” ceremony last Sunday. This is a way for surfers, lifeguards, and other water people to celebrate the life of a fallen comrade. Some say its origins come from ancient Hawaiian culture, but most historians believe it has its roots just after the turn of the 20th century. Wherever it came from it is practiced all over the world where there are beaches. It usually involves people paddling out on a surfboard or other craft, forming a circle, telling stories, and putting flowers in the center. Sometimes ashes are put in the water. The ceremony can be religious or secular in nature.

Ben’s paddle out was exceptional. According to the LA Times 5,000 people watched from the pier and shore and there were approximately 2,500 people in the water. There’s a really well done video that’s worth a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEpHEaGQUUI&feature=youtu.be . This may be the largest paddle out ceremony in known history.

There is no more fitting way to say good bye to a water person.

 

Ben Carlson paddle out

 

 

Community Pool

We don’t see a lot of children drown on the beach like you do in inland waterways, pools, drainage ditches, wells, etc. That’s why last weekend when we almost lost a 3 year old it shook us up. Fortunately the little girl was only under for a short time before parents, bystanders, and the area lifeguard were right on top of it. The guard started artificial respirations immediately and she ended up being OK after a couple of days in the hospital. No drowning is good and one involving a child is especially tough. We were happy to end a holiday weekend of very hard work and long hours with no drownings on the island. But there is much, much more to the chain of drowning prevention besides an effective lifeguard service.

The number one way to prevent drowning is to learn to swim. In the United States Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14. 70% of African American children, 60% of Hispanic children and 40% of Caucasian children cannot swim. We live on an island where no one is more than a mile and a half from water. Unfortunately it’s not the kind of water you can learn to swim in. In fact it’s really dangerous to try to teach a kid to swim in the beach or in open water. Unlike most of the cities in our area we have no public pool in which to teach swimming lessons or provide other aquatic programs in. According to USA Swimming, the risk of drowning drops 88% by participation in formal swimming lessons.

The good news is the most recent attempt to build a community pool is coming close to success. They have raised 1.7 million, which is almost half the needed funds and have 1.9 million to go (that’s only $50/person on the island).  They recently received a big challenge grant from the Moody Foundation and need to raise the balance to receive it.

In my opinion the plan is solid and choosing the site of Lasker Park is right on the mark. The city already owns the land. 69% of the kids on the island live within two miles of the site. There will be two pools, one a shallow walk-in pool with water features and slide. The other is a competitive eight lane pool. Programs will include swimming lessons, training for rescue teams, life guard training, water aerobics and swimming competitions, scuba classes and more; all of which will generate income.

Your help and support is needed to make the community pool a reality.  Donations of any size will help meet the Moody Foundation’s challenge grant.

Tax deductible gifts (checks or MasterCard or Visa) may be sent to Galveston Community Pool, c/o Barbara Sanderson, Director, Parks and Recreation, McGuire Dent Recreation Center, 2222 28th St, Galveston, TX 77550.  Phone: 409-621-3177.

This is the same community that elevated the island and built the seawall. A pool should be easy if we all pitch in.

 

Community Swimming Pool