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Aloha Pat

We’re all really mad at that groundhog that it doesn’t feel like spring, but this weekend is the start of the biggest spring break weekend. The Beach Patrol’s pace accelerates rapidly because the first wave of our seasonal lifeguards come back and do their annual requalification swim and other requirements and head out to the lifeguard towers.

Tomorrow morning is also a tryout day followed by the start of a 9 day lifeguard academy immediately afterward. If you know someone that’s interested it’s not too late for them to meet us at 7am at the UTMB Field House. Information is available on our website.

Our fulltime staff has done a fantastic job of getting everything ready for the beach season. The Park Board Beach Maintenance Department put the towers out on the beach for us and our crew has taken care of the last details of proper signage, flag poles, etc so they’d be ready for the guards. They’ve also gone out and done another round of maintenance on the 300 signs that we maintain along all 33 miles of beachfront- no easy task in the weather we’ve been having. There’s a great deal of prep work that goes into preparing everything for the lifeguard academy, which is a pretty involved deal involving Red Cross and United States Lifesaving Association certifications, along with all the scheduling of facilities and instructors and revising course materials. But it’s all done (and much more) and we’re ready.

We’re starting the season off on a sad note this year. Pat McCloy, a long time Beach Patrol supporter, died early this week. She and her late husband Dr. Jim McCloy of Texas A&M Galveston were always there for us and for many other groups on the island. We’re helping her close friend and former Director of Beach Patrol, Vic Maceo, to organize a paddle out ceremony at around 2pm today at Stewart Beach, which is open to anyone who is interested. Several years ago we participated in a similar one at the same spot for Jim. Friends of Pat and Jim, lifeguards, beach people and others will follow the Polynesian tradition and paddle boards to a point offshore and make a circle. We will then put her ashes in the water along with flowers. There will be prayers, stories, or silence as we say goodbye/aloha to Pat and watch her ashes dissolve in the same waters that hold her lifelong partner’s. They were real ocean lovers and inseparable in life. It seems fitting that they will finally rejoin in the water. Thank you from all of us Pat and travel well in the next phase of your journey.

As lifeguards and rescuers we know we can’t dwell long on the past or even the future. We need to be present and focused when the tourists arrive and need us to help them get home safely. Pat of all people would understand this and cheer us onward into a new beach season.

Winter Dangers

For those who have not heard, there was a terrible accident last weekend involving a couple of kayakers in West Bay. The Galveston Daily News did a comprehensive story on it, but in a nutshell two kayakers were capsized by strong currents and one managed to make it to a channel marker post where he hung on until a boat arrived. At the time of writing this, one of the men is still missing. This incident is only part of a larger safety picture, and hopefully can be used to prevent similar incidents.

With recent water temps in the low 50’s and even high 40’s, getting out on the water requires more foresight and preparation than during warmer months. A quick dip in the water when you’re a couple miles from shore can become a serious thing without proper gear. Kayakers, surfers, kite-boarders, stand-up paddlers, etc. should not only wear a wetsuit, but should have the appropriate wetsuit for the activity and conditions. When at all appropriate it’s a really good idea to not just bring a lifejacket, but to wear it. That way when the unexpected happens you’re able to float and wait for help long after the cold water prevents swimming.

Each spring when the air starts to warm but the water is still cold the conditions are ripe for sea fog. This fog can appear all at once or as a white bank that rolls in. Our Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office, one of the best in the country, is very tuned in to the aquatic environment and puts out all kinds of relevant marine warnings. Last weekend there was a fog advisory, but localized fog can happen without warning. Rescue workers from all agencies associated with the “Galveston Marine Response” coalition were kept busy when several kayakers and boaters got lost in fog in West Bay and the San Luis Pass area over the weekend. Some were really close to shore. In fact, at the San Luis Pass, a fast acting Galveston Fire Department crew was smart enough to go to the area that a kayaker entered the water and blast their siren continuously until the kayaker paddled back in following the sound.

Aside from proper attire and a Coast Guard approved lifejacket there are a few other things you should do before getting on the water. First, be sure someone has very specific and accurate information about where you’re going and what times you’ll be out. Having participated in hundreds of searches for people, I can tell you the better starting point a rescuer has, the more likely he/she is to locate the missing person. Make sure your cell phone is charged and in a waterproof case. If you have a smart phone, there are apps that can help you find your way around, but don’t rely on electronics! A small watch compass has gotten me out of a jam more than once.

Most importantly, take a moment to think of all the things that could go wrong before getting on the water, then plan accordingly.

 

 

Pool Update

Our first lifeguard tryouts of the year are just around the corner on March 14th. If you know anyone who’s interested, information is available on our website at www.galvestonislandbeachpatrol.org . We have a new short recruiting and information video on our homepage as well, so check it out to see all our local lifeguard stars.

Our full time crew has been racking up the road miles lately recruiting lifeguards at area high schools and colleges. It’s always a challenge to get enough qualified lifeguard candidates each year that can pass our swim requirement, which is much harder than what a pool or waterpark needs. We always get a good number from the various area high school swim teams, but without a community pool there is a pretty small group of local swimmers to pick from. That’s one of the many reasons we are excited about the prospect of actually having a public swimming pool here on the island! For those of you that have not heard the latest on this project, they’ve made significant progress.

The swimming pool committee asked for and received an extension from the Moody Foundation regarding their challenge grant, we have until Dec 2015 to generate the balance of the project to get the match. Thus far, a little over $2.12 million has been raised, leaving about $1.6 M to go.  153 individuals have contributed over $62,000.  There are about a $1 million in grants to assorted foundations, people, and state sources pending.

It will only take $50 per person on the island and we will be breaking ground!

There is a big community wide treasure sale coming up March 13-15 at McGuire Dent’s gym.  They need donations of stuff, volunteers to work the sale, and of course we all need to go out and support.

The plan now includes a wall of fame where donations greater than $100 will be recognized in a mural at the entrance to the pool.

The hope is to eventually offer swim lessons for every 2nd or 3rd grader in Galveston and to train a local workforce for all the lifeguard related jobs on the island.  Our residents can’t compete for those good paying summer jobs if they never have the opportunity to learn to swim.

It’s still planned for Lasker Park, 43rd and Q. There will be two pools, one recreational with slides and play features, and one competition ready with 8 lanes x 25 yds. The tennis courts will remain and off street parking will be added. The practice football fields will be rotated and a marked walking trail around the block will be measured off.  The city was kind enough to re-engineer 43rd street so as it is repaired this spring all necessary drainage, water lines and utilities will be upgraded to be ready for the pool.

Donations can be made out to the Galveston Community Swimming Pool and mailed to: 2222 28th street, Galveston, TX 77551. All credit cards accepted at 409-621-3177.

Sand Project

Have you been to the western edge of the seawall? If not, swing by and check it out. As you look west you’ll see… a big new beach!

This project, the first and smallest of three scheduled to happen this year, has completed 80,000 of the planned 118,000 cubic yards of sand planned. It’s a vulnerable area with the fastest eroding beach on the island. Among other things and for obvious reasons, it’s the first area our Emergency Operation Center worries about during times of flooding from high tides.

The parts of the project that relate to ensuring we get beach quality sand placed with a minimal margin of error are interesting. Sand sources are permitted through the US Army Corp of Engineers and are subject to a rigorous review which includes input from various regulatory agencies, including US Fish and Wildlife, Texas General Land Office, US Army Corp of Engineers, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and others.

The sand is being dredged from the bay side of the island and is being moved to the site by trucks, where it is then piped to a specific location.  As is typical in a dredge project, a bit of other material has ended on the beach.  Monitors have been placed on each end of the pipeline and debris is being removed as it becomes apparent.  Teams are reviewing the beach daily and collecting any debris that escapes the monitoring process.

Although all the sand placed on the beach will eventually no longer be easily evident, a significant portion will remain visible. The rest migrates out to the area of the third sandbar and sits in about 10 feet of water. Many of you will remember back in the mid 90’s when we did that giant nourishment project on the seawall. At first the sand was all the way out to the end of the jetties, but eventually settled about a third of the way out. The rest stays near shore and moves around.  This movement of sand contributes to the development of an overall healthy beach and was taken into account in the design for the beach profile.

Eventually the long-shore current moves some sand to other parts of the beach. Beaches are dynamic and evolve over time.  In the winter, sand moves out to near-­shore bars.  The gentle waves of summer then return sand from the bars back to the beach.  Beach nourishment will not stop the shoreline from receding in eroding areas, but it will delay it.  Beach nourishment increases the life span of the shore and prolongs the benefits that beaches bring our island.  Around the country the majority of tourist beach areas are periodically re-nourished because the revenue they bring in and the infrastructure they protect far exceeds the re-nourishment costs .

This project is the beginning of a 50 year sand management plan designed by the Engineering and Research Development Center of the US Army Corp of Engineers and will hopefully mark the beginning of an ongoing, periodic process by which we can protect and maintain our delicate shoreline.

A Small Thing

It was a small, but deeply meaningful thing.

The other morning it was cold, windy, rainy and overcast, but there were some nice little waves breaking. It was early as I grabbed my board and paddled out at 37th street.

As I used the rip current to paddle out, I noticed our rescue buoy box was open and the ring buoy was laying on the rocks with the rope spread out all over. These boxes are invaluable and we document at least 15 rescues a season by fishermen or bystanders who throw the ring buoy out to a person in distress without having to endanger themselves by going in the water after the victim. I made a mental note that when I finished I would pick up the buoy, stuff the rope back in its throw bag, stick it back in the box, and latch it closed so it would be ready if someone needed it.

After awhile a couple of other guards joined me before their shift. Between sets of waves we chatted about how cold it was. It was in the 40s with a strong north east wind and drizzling. Pretty miserable.

We saw our “on call” unit coming down the seawall and stop to put out the condition advisory flag on the sign up on the seawall at 37th street. The “on call” unit is the person and vehicle assigned to answer any 911 calls during the night. We rotate this job each night so anytime during the year, day or night, we are available to help if a water emergency comes up. Supervisor/Officer Josh Hale was finishing up his on call shift by putting out the daily flags. It was so cold and miserable that we all decided that Josh would either not notice the buoy on the rocks or would act like he didn’t see it. We realized we were wrong when we saw Josh trudge out through the rain and wind wearing his big red coat. He carefully put the rope back in the bag and set the whole thing back in the box, waved at us, and walked back to his truck and drove down the beach.

I later found out that this was not for show. Every day when Josh puts the flags out he double checks each of the buoy boxes and makes sure they are stocked and ready to go. Josh, like most of the Beach Patrol lifeguards has seen enough of what can go wrong to be motivated to do whatever he can to keep bad things from happening. He doesn’t do it to please me or anyone else. He goes the extra mile because he believes in what we do and knows little proactive actions like this save lives.

Josh is not alone. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by many others who do thousands of unrewarded, quiet actions to keep organization running well. The combined result of these small things keep thousands from injury or death each year.

Snapshot

A sea of hands are raised in the Galveston school while students struggle to keep their bottoms on the gym floor. Supervisor/Officer Kris Pompa surveys the crowd and picks a young man way in the back. “What do you think?” The little boy says, “Lifeguards are there to protect people from sharks and undertoads”. Kris chuckles and says, “Close! But the main reason lifeguards are on the beach is to protect people from dangerous currents when they swim in the water. But we protect people from other things too. We even tell people when they’re starting to get sunburned. We also enforce rules and help kids who get lost find their parents.”

Meanwhile, at a mainland high school, Supervisor Mary Stewart is talking to the swim team about what beach lifeguards do every day. “…. After you finish your morning workout and skills training, you have 45 minutes to check out your flag bag and radio and get to your tower. Once on location you clean the tower, put your flags up and swim the rip current to see how hard it’s running and how deep it is there. Then your main job is to keep people away from the rocks, see if anyone needs help, and do whatever you can to keep people from harm. Every day we train, and on Sundays anyone can enter the weekly competitions. Most of my friends are on Beach Patrol and it’s a great bunch of people. I hope you guys will come try out, most of our guards are either on swim teams or were at one time.”

On the seawall, around 37th street Supervisor/Officer Josh Hale and Supervisor Lauren Hollaway pull over to check on a young surfer that is hanging off the side of his board in the rip current by the jetty. They watch him for a bit to make sure he’s able to get back on his board and paddle back out to the lineup. Turns out he’s OK and they don’t have to jump in the 56 degree water to help him. They drive on to the next cluster of surfers at 27th street while scanning the seawall for any problems or anyone needing a hand.

At headquarters in the garage Supervisor/Officer Joe Cerdas is finishing some work on a new rack system he’s been intermittently working on between other jobs, patrolling, and special activities. Upstairs Captain Tony Pryor is putting the finishing touches on the next employee schedule while Lieutenant Kara Harrison solicits bids for some equipment that needs to be ordered.

This is a snapshot of an average day for the full time staff of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol during the “down season”. Soon we’ll have all 100 of our seasonal workers back and we’ll finish up our annual school water safety talks and recruiting visits. Maintenance and administrative duties continue all year but the focus will be almost completely on the millions of beach patrons that visit the beach each year.

And so it begins!

 

Water and Magic

I was at Moody Gardens with my daughter’s school the other day and I walked through the rain forest pyramid. There is a quote I’ve always loved hanging above entrance by Loren Eiseley -anthropologist and author of The Immense Journey, that read, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

My Mom used to always buy our whole family a season pass to Moody Gardens, a tradition we continue. At first, I used to think she did it because she was friends with both Ann and Bobby Moody. She would do stuff like that a lot. But I realized later that she did it because it was a great place for our family to gather when they’d come home from all the different places they lived. Galveston is lucky to have so many places like that. My daughter and I used to go to the aquarium all the time when she was little and my wife took her to Palm Beach almost every day for several summers in a row.

Like many people here on the island I’ve always felt a close connection to water and to the sea. Years ago, while my family went through some terrible things, I’d lose/find myself for hours and hours surfing or sailing. I didn’t really fix anything, but it gave me a place where our problems seemed more in perspective and offered a connection to something much bigger than our transient existence. As Isak Dinesen says, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”

Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that people with a connection to water found connections with each other as well. There are many famous Texas watermen that demonstrate this. Galveston lifeguard legend Leroy Columbo touched many lives. One of these was Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz who as a child rented surf mats from Columbo. Former lifeguard Babe Schwartz, who needs no introduction, was a huge part in founding the modern Beach Patrol in Galveston. Doc Paskowitz once met Jim Dobbins (one of the first trainers of the Beach Patrol) surfing in California. Doc told Jim that Babe Schwartz once saved his wife’s life.

Doc Paskowitz, a Galveston native, has many famous quotes that are repeated all over the world by surfers and lifeguards. One that fits is, “There is a wisdom in the wave” to which he added, “While just a child, the warm waters of the Gulf Coast of Texas gave me my first chance at that wisdom.”

I’m not sure where in the mix of water and people you find the magic, but in a world where we’re trained to accumulate things and hold on to everything tightly, it’s a place that forces you to let go.

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead you relax and float.” -Alan Watts

 

Puerto Rican Beach Story

Wispy clouds scudded across blue Puerto Rican sky as the woman entered the water to cool off. 10 steps into the water the bottom disappeared. Surprised, she swam to the surface and began to swim back to shore. To her dismay she found herself being pulled out to sea despite her efforts.

The current ran, as it normally does from right to left down the beautiful Puerto Rican beach. As the farthest point on the left side, in front of a beautiful 4 star resort, there was a rock groin and breakwater that extended out into the ocean. Just like in Galveston, there is always a rip current by the rocks.

Suddenly, as the woman was pulled near the rocks, she hit a turbulent area. A wave broke over her head. Coughing and sputtering she made it back to the surface, but she’d choked on some water and found it hard to breathe. Panic gripped her as she realized she couldn’t make it back, and she was disoriented by the rough sea. She thought about her children and husband up in the hotel room. She remembered a load of laundry that she’d left in the dryer back in her New Jersey home, and then wondered why that would occur to her. The realization that she would not survive this event hit her like a punch to the gut. She struggled harder despite having trouble breathing. She quickly tired and felt impossibly heavy. She started slipping under water.

The resort offered all kinds of amenities, but the main draw was that it sits right on a very beautiful beach. The designers and investors thought about every little detail so their guests would have the ultimate experience. Every little detail but one. It sits right in front of a permanent rip current, and rip currents are the cause of 80% of ocean rescues (and likely ocean drownings). They didn’t plan for a beach safety program for their guests. Like many resorts around the world, this one was placed on a beautiful beach without thought to the safety of the beach itself.

Just as the woman slipped beneath the surface strong hands grabbed her. She found herself floating on a ratty old boogie board as a man yelled in Spanish and kicked her back to shore. Upon arriving to safety the man walked off and she sat down numbly. After a time she looked around and saw the man selling coconuts to tourists out of a shopping carts. Behind him under a bench she saw an old sleeping bag.

This beach sees about 10 drownings a year, usually rich tourists. The man selling coconuts averages 5 rescues a day. Partly because of the success of Galveston’s beaches, I’m part of a small team from the United States Lifesaving Association working up a proposal to combine private sector funding with governmental management of a beach patrol there. Until then, our hero, who is 62 years old, will hopefully be hard at work…

 

Image by cogito ergo imago.

Dobbins

The older guard pointed to the west side of the 47th street groin as he pulled the jeep over quickly. “Look at that rip, let’s go check it out!” he yelled as the pair sprinted down the rocks and jumped off a rock that was “just right”. The older guard then made them climb up the rocks again despite the churning surf, algae, and barnacles. Over and over the pair climbed up and jumped back into the surf before getting back in the jeep and racing up and down the seawall moving swimmers and checking on guards.

I worked with Jim Dobbins on weekends during the mid 80’s. The days were full and active. Lunches generally lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of a quick bowl of rice in his beachside apartment. I learned a great deal.

He taught the guards how to work the rocks. In those years a guard worked a groin all summer and Jim knew each rock of each groin. He taught guards where it was “safe” to jump from, and how to move around on the rocks without getting cut up. An avid surfer, he knew the rip currents well, and taught the guards how to use them to get to a victim quickly. He was a ball of energy as he made each guard that worked the seawall swim his/her area each morning so they would know exactly where the holes and currents were for the day (a practice that we continue to this day). He was relentless in stressing the importance of getting to someone before they actually got in trouble.

Dr. Jim Dobbins was an Epidemiologist working as a professor at UTMB in those years. As a teacher, he didn’t like being away from hands on preventative work in his field. With the Beach Patrol he was able to put theory into practice in the direct prevention of injury on Galveston’s beaches. He went on to work for the Center for Disease Control in a research program and later was employed by the World Health Organization. With the W.H.O he was able to once again take a hands-on approach as the guy who was tasked with handling potential infectious disease outbreaks in the Caribbean.

On Jim’s first day of work he responded to 7 people on inner tubes getting pushed into the South Jetty under extreme conditions. He was able to push them through a gap one by one and finally able to get himself through. He was shredded by rocks and exhausted but committed to preventing this type of thing from happening. He devised a strategy where people were kept far from the jetty, which we still employ.

Now in his 70’s Jim visits Galveston periodically. He likes to talk about the old days. But I think he really enjoys seeing how proactive we’ve become as an agency. Many of the techniques we use to keep people from ever getting into trouble today are based on strategies he implemented. After all, prevention is the essence of both Epidemiology and Lifesaving.

 

Dobbins

 

Rescue Theory

A swimmer’s head sits low in the water and his arms flap out to the sides while trying to keep his head up. The lifeguard sees the telltale signs of a swimmer in distress. She immediately kicks into a whole pre-determined plan. She radios for backup, grabs her fins and rescue tube, chooses the proper entry (from sand or rocks), and dolphins through shallow water while unwrapping her tube. Swimming with her head intermittently up to keep sight of the victim, she pauses on the approach, and talks to him as she keeps her buoy between them while extending it. Upon contact, she moves to his rear and buckles the buoy around him, assesses him, signals to shore what his condition is and if she needs help, swims him to the beach while checking intermittently, re-checks him more thoroughly at the shore and renders whatever medical aid is needed. While doing this she prepares to pass all this info on to her supervisor or other first responders.

Making an ocean rescue is a complicated process which requires a great deal of preparation to effect safely. There are a lot of ways this could potentially go sideways, so we spend a large percentage of precious training time on this topic. Obviously there is a lot of physical training required in advance so the body is prepared, but the real keys are the mental aspects. These we break into two general categories, elimination of variables and cognitive flexibility under stress.

Elimination of variables encompasses a whole range of physical, mental, and psychological components. The overarching concept is when you start the rescue process there are a lot of things that need to happen, so you want to make sure you take care of as many of these variables as you can in advance and have fewer unknowns as you enter the rescue scenario. In addition to the areas that are consistent between most rescues, each event is unique and so things will be encountered that that could not be planned for.

When you go into action your body instinctively kicks in a whole range of physiological responses so you can do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do. Time seems to slow down as chemicals are dumped into your blood stream. Depending on your training and history, you can experience a diminished mental capacity while at the same time have an enhanced physical capability. Taking care of as many things as possible in advance is crucial since you may not be at your best mentally during the rescue process. The key components in the concept of elimination of variables are: level of fitness, skills, equipment preparation, and state of readiness.

Level of fitness involves a great deal of physical training that is specific to the actual environment that rescues will be made in. Our guards work out before every shift so they’re intimately familiar with the bottom contour, waves, and currents of that particular day. We also use competition as a means to motivate the entire staff to be at their physical peak during the beach season.

Rescue skills atrophy if not used regularly. Incorporated into our daily pre-shift workouts is a skill component. They may practice CPR, hand signals, components of a rescue, public relations, or handling a lost child. Sports enthusiasts and public safety professionals regularly use the term “muscle memory” to signify repeating something over and over again until you don’t have to consciously think about it. For example you may practice a modification to your swim stroke so many times that you start doing it automatically when you swim. They may be using the term incorrectly in this context, but it makes sense in that it’s almost like your body remembers how to do something without your brain having to tell it. If these skills are kept current through repeated training and practice, they happen almost subconsciously during the rescue process so the rescuers consciousness isn’t spread too thin. He/she can then focus on the weird stuff that inevitably happens, instead of on things that need to happen for every rescue.

Equipment preparedness is integral in the process. There’s nothing worse than having equipment malfunction when trying to save another person. A fairly routine rescue can go horribly wrong when a fin strap breaks or a buoy is wrapped up improperly so the strap doesn’t play out smoothly. There’s a reason fire departments insist that each piece of equipment is maintained and put up the same way each time. When you need that hose or pump, it needs to be easy to get and needs to work. One of the first things the lifeguards learn is how to properly wrap their rescue buoy. Once this is committed to “muscle memory” it’s automatically done the same way each time. Each guard uses the same technique so the buoys are interchangeable if they have to use someone else’s equipment. The same principle applies to oxygen units, personal water craft, rescue vehicles, automatic external defibrillators and any other piece of equipment. If you get in a rescue truck at any point of the day or night the equipment is stored the same way, every piece of equipment works, it’s full of gas, and ready to go. Fewer variables stand between the rescuer and successfully saving a life.

State of readiness is a general concept that basically means the lifeguards come to the job each day prepared mentally, physically, and psychologically. They are able to maintain a state of alertness for their entire shift because they are well rested, hydrated, and wearing the proper gear for sun protection or temperature control. It also implies that they leave their personal problems at home and don’t let any issues they may be having interfere with their work or concentration on duties. It’s better to have an empty tower than a lifeguard who is there physically but who is not focused. The only person who truly can monitor this is the lifeguards themselves, so the expectation is that they will remove themselves from duty if there’s some reason that they can’t focus on the job. Finally, before a lifeguard is able to work a stand, he/she needs to have developed a certain level of confidence in his/her ability to save someone. This is accomplished by all the aforementioned skills and through a belief that they can handle unusual situations on the fly because they are proficient in their ability think creatively under the gun.

Cognitive flexibility under stress, the ability to demonstrate flexibility and creative problem solving strategies under duress, is a little harder concept for the guards to grasp at first. Through repetition neural pathways become more “worn”, much like a foot path that has been traveled more often and therefore becomes easier to use. This is a good thing in that response to a given stimuli becomes automatic, but with the obvious benefits come inherent risks. The potential issue lies in the environment itself. The ocean and beach are in a constant state of flux, as are the beach patrons themselves.  No rescue is routine, as there are a multitude of factors that can affect the process. When in a stressful situation we all have a tendency to default to what we know. That’s good if it means we perform CPR the way we were trained. But you also hear stories about police officers who, in the midst of a shootout, start collecting their empty magazines off of the street because that’s the way they did it when practicing at the range. The goal of teaching people to show “cognitive flexibility” during a rescue or crisis is for them to default to their training while at the same time being able to expand their awareness and come up with creative solutions to problems that pop up while dealing with a multitude of issues.

Understanding this principle helps in the teaching process. In ocean lifeguarding we teach from the top down. Our instructors focus on the overarching principles and teach to trouble shoot application of these principles to a variety of real life scenarios. For example, instead of teaching exactly how to make contact with a victim in the water, we focus on basic principles such as keeping floatation between the rescuer and victims’ bodies, pausing and assessing a safe distance from a victim. That way the concept works when you use other types of floatation and/or in a myriad of specific rescue techniques. Or we may talk about tone of voice as opposed to specific words to say to a victim. Once these general concepts are internalized through training and repetition (muscle memory), the guards become more confident and comfortable in their ability handle anything that is thrown at them.

These concepts and a respect for the power and variability of the ocean are the beginnings of forging competent and professional lifeguards.