The golden orange early morning light slanted across the surface as the bow of the surf ski sliced through glassy, emerald water. The only sounds a mile and a half from shore were from paddles dipping into the water and rhythmic breathing, punctuated by the occasional bird sound. 15 minutes into an hour and a half training session and I was in the zone, when an unexpected wet blowing sound just off to the side startled me. This ended up being one of the best paddles of the summer.
A dolphin had broken the surface off to the right side and as I saw its tail slip beneath the surface, I realized how clear the water was. I was able to track it under the front of the boat and see it moving off to the left, along with several other shapes that were swimming in tandem. Another surfaced, then another, and I realized they were all over. It was a pod of around twenty bottle nosed dolphins. I adjusted course to track with the group and for the next 10 minutes saw them play, come up beside me and look at me with curious, all too human eyes, and jump in the air. Eventually they drifted off and I resumed my course farther offshore.
In what is arguably the busiest beach and hottest season Galveston has seen, the demands on our staff are many. They have risen to the occasion and have done the hard work of keeping people from danger day in and day out. To do this we’ve had to find balance. Physical balance includes daily exercise, staying hydrated/healthy, and being self-aware enough to realize when you shouldn’t push too hard or shouldn’t take that extra shift. But equally important is the need to maintain psychological balance and build things into your routine to counteract the stress that being constantly on the watch for ways to keep people from hurting themselves brings. We’ve tried to build that into our routine as an agency by allowing time for daily training, providing formal leadership/resiliency training, and encouraging social time outside of work. In fact, last Friday our non-profit lifesaving association hosted a very nice dinner and awards banquet for the whole staff with the help of a generous donation from the Sasser family (thank you!). It was really cool to see the crew relaxing with friends and co-workers outside of work. Special congrats to our 2023 Lifeguard of the Year, Josh Schmidt, who was chosen by his peers and whose name is now memorialized on the lifeguard of the year plaque that hangs in our Headquarters!
Back to my personal de-stress routine, once I’d reached a turnaround point about 4 miles offshore, I took a few minutes to swim around in the abnormally crystal-clear water before heading back. On the way I was again startled by a 6-foot Spinner Shark jumping/spinning about 5 feet above the water and reconnected with the big dolphin pod before returning to shore refreshed and ready to start another day on the beach.