Elbow Grease

“I take care of my kids m*****..! Don’t tell me how to raise my boy!” the man yelled.

Veins bulged from his tatted neck, his hands were shaking, and a little spittle was running down  the side of his mouth. A large group of men in their early 20s looked on seeing which way it was going to go.

It was right before dark on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. We were on Boddecker drive behind several rows of cars. Backup would take a long time to get to me if it was even available.

I held my hands out in front of me palms open. I tried to sound calm. “Look, no one is telling you how to take care of your kid. I’m sure you’re a great dad. It’s just that we’ve warned this group of people your with more than 10 times to stay out of the water in the ship channel and your 4 year old was out to his neck really near where that water runs out. Its deep there. We had 6 children drown there in one year a while back. All I’m saying is not to let him in the water from now on.”

The moment passed. He stayed mad but got himself in check. I got the feeling his kid wouldn’t go back in. I reminded myself what we tell the rookie guards. “You don’t have to win the argument. You just have to get them to comply.” Kind of like the key to a happy marriage is based on the question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”. I moved on to the next group and started with the same opener, “Hi! Has anyone been by to explain the rules and about how dangerous the water is yet?…”

The last thing my crew and I wanted to be doing as darkness fell last Sunday was going on foot to group after group explaining why they couldn’t keep going back in the water in the ship channel after we made announcements. We really wanted to drive away as night fell and hope for the best. But there were several hundred people that would be there well into the night, and many of them were… argumentative. Most of the groups had small children with them that they kept letting back in the water right after the announcements and directly in front of the bilingual, iconic no swimming/wading signs.

I’m convinced if the city hadn’t had the foresight to prohibit parking on the road and, instead to require them to park in designated areas that are a ways away from the most dangerous areas, we would have lost someone. I’m also sure if we hadn’t talked to each group directly last Sunday we’d be dealing with a drowning death, most likely of a small child.

Having the right system out there is vital. But sometimes good lifeguarding requires elbow grease and  comes down to one on one communication.

Disco Dog Party

The boat had 4 older men in it. They’d been shark fishing for several hours about a mile and a half off shore near the South Jetty. During that time they’d watched a beautiful sunset, had a few beers, and caught several large sharks. It had gotten dark, although the moon was rising and shining through the light cloud cover. They were talking and enjoying being so far away from the pressures of their daily lives and all the hustle and bustle of the city. There was a gentle lapping of the calm, summer water on the hull of the boat and occasionally they could hear the cry of seagulls.

Suddenly a loud voice broke the silence. “YO! ANY OF YOU DUDES SEEN A DISCO PARTY OUT HERE?!!!” They were startled and shined a light in the general direction of the voice. Shiny gold chains and a medallion shone off a bare chest and a gold lame’ shirt. They sat in shocked silence while the young man paddled past them and out towards the end of the jetty.

Back in younger (and wilder) days on the Beach Patrol we had an annual tradition. Right after the hectic 4th of July weekend we would celebrate by holding an elaborate party called the “Disco Dog Party”.

The rules were that you had to get to the lighthouse on the end of the two mile long South Jetty without using any type of motorized craft and had to wear 70’s clothes. We would use a two person surf boat to haul the heavy equipment like a grill, tape player (this was before CDs), charcoal, food, etc on the 4 mile round trip journey. All the participants would have to paddle out and back on boards, surf-skis, and kayaks. Occasionally, someone would bring a small sailboat.

This particular night we had just finished the hot dogs and were eating them as night came on. The music was cranking and someone turned on a battery powered disco ball they’d brought out there somehow. The lights were shining off of the posts of the lighthouse and some of the guards were starting to dance as Troy Stevens paddled up shouting, “Hey I made it. I think I freaked some shark fishermen out about a half mile back!”

Turns out he did more than “freak them out”. One of the men in the boat was a Texas State Senator, who made calls to the Coast Guard and the county Sheriff. Needless to say, that was the last of the Disco Dog Parties, ending a 9 year long streak of this tradition.

Back in the days of the US Lifesaving Service Saturdays were reserved for parties. My Grandma told me stories about how she and her friends would row boats out to the partially sunken cement ship over by Pelican Island back in the ’20’s. I guess this was the latest iteration of young water people celebrating, but at least they didn’t have a Disco King paddling around in the middle of the ocean!