Texas Lifeguard Groups

About 8 years back I was contacted by the City Manager of the City of South Padre. A number of their citizens were concerned because they’d had a higher than normal drownings on their beaches. He was very interested in starting up a lifeguard service for their city. Several visits later, I wrote up an analysis of their beaches with the help of some colleagues in the United States Lifesaving Association which included recommendations for starting a professional lifeguard service.

For a time I made frequent presentations to every group imaginable. There was a bit of resistance from some who said they had less liability with signs than guards. Similar to what Galveston and much of the country has gone through at one time or another. Eventually, reason (and lots of politicking) prevailed, and they formed the first ever lifeguard service for their city under their fire department. A group of guards ended up going down with me, including Sean Migues and Kara Harrison, and we ran a United States Lifesaving Association ocean lifeguard academy.

They were off to a good start, but the problem is that most of their 27 or so miles of beaches fall under the jurisdiction of Cameron County, and that includes 3 areas with huge crowds. The city beaches are mostly in front of the beach front condos without much crowd density. So on a given weekend there were a handful of people in their area, but nearby at Isla Blanca Park there were several thousand people. The city lifeguards were running to the county beaches and making rescues and dealing with all kinds of emergencies. The bar had been raised and the county eventually stepped up and started their own program, again with our help. In fact, the guy they chose to be their Chief of Lifeguards has worked for both the Galveston Beach Patrol and the SPI Beach Patrol. The county program grew rapidly and they now have something like 40 seasonal lifeguards and three permanent staff members. Drownings have decreased dramatically.

That was great, but there was still a big gap in the central Texas Coast. There has been a guard presence of sorts for years there, but they haven’t had a consistent training program and used a pool certification for their guards instead of something appropriate for the surf environment, which leaves them vulnerable to all kinds of litigation.

That all changed recently. Some scandal hit their Parks Department a few months ago and a bunch of people were fired. Several new key staff positions were recently filled including a new Park Director and Lifeguard Chief, who was hired last Thursday. The guy they hired was the number two lifeguard for the City of SPI. He plans to use the Galveston Beach Patrol as a model.

Years ago we got a lot of help from different lifeguard agencies from all over the country to set up the system we have here in Galveston. Nice to have a chance to pass the favor on!

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.