Summer is close! The water is getting close to 80 degrees and the early crowds we saw this spring have not slacked off. And we just graduated an amazing new group of Wave Watcher volunteers! Apart from an intermittent smattering of man-o-war and some wind, the conditions have been nice. Looking at the calendar, it […]
Recently, two young men and a woman were making an Uber Eats delivery to Galveston and decided to go to the beach. Walking down to the sand at 26th, they saw a ton of surfers and several people out swimming in the warm water. They decided to hit the water.
As they got out to chest deep, the feeder current pulled them towards the Pleasure Pier, gently causing their feet to bounce along the bottom. A fairly strong east to west longshore current ran along the beach. As it hit the jetties and piers, most had significant rip currents on the leeward sides (west side in this scenario). These rip currents had been running for a couple of days and had scoured out pretty deep troughs on the west side of all the structures.
The trio quickly went from bouncing in the shallow waters of the feeder to getting sucked away from shore in the deep waters of the rip current. All three started panicking and went vertical in the water, struggling for each breath.
Someone spotted what was happening, and called the 911 dispatcher, who quickly notified Beach Patrol, then the Galveston Marine Response partners of Police, Fire, and EMS. The call came in that there were 5 people in distress. A minute or so later, the first Beach Patrol truck arrived, and the two Supervisors hit the water.
It was a bit chaotic as they sorted out what was what, but eventually it turned out there were three victims, and the other people were surfers who were helping the victims. This isn’t unusual, surfers probably make at least as many rescues as lifeguards, although this can come at a cost, since most don’t have formal rescue training. Two of the victims were being brought in by surfers and Beach Patrol, Fire, and EMS went to help one that collapsed. One of the lifeguards helped with this while the other, Michael Lucero, went for the third victim on a rescue board.
Michael spotted her being assisted by a surfer, who was reaching across his SUP board and holding her steady about 60 yards from shore. The rip current had spat her out about halfway out the Pleasure Pier, and they were floating quickly to the 27th street jetty. Michael approached and made contact with them about the time they rounded the end of the 27th street jetty. He attempted to get her on the rescue board, and she fell off. Then it got interesting.
The surfer got her up on his board and said, “You ever surf? No? OK 1,2,3!”, and he pushed her into a wave. She made it part way in as Michael paddled after her as fast as he could. She then fell off the board and started to struggle and go under. Michael arrived just in time, grabbed her, wrapped her in his rescue tube, and took her the rest of the way to safety.
This would have gone a different way, were it not for the surfers, and those who make it possible for us to work guards all year!
39 years ago, I stood in the sand with 16 other lifeguards as radios were issued from our “Headquarters.” I studied the old run-down trailer parked outside a small beach pavilion on the sand and thought, “This is the Headquarters?” In 1983, Hurricane Alicia wiped all that away. The following season, we moved into a brand-new space, which was situated in a large, modern, beach pavilion. The effect of a professional facility sparked a fire which increased coverage, professionalism, partnerships, and outreach, and we eventually became a premier lifesaving force of 140 strong. Thirty years later, we have expanded inside that existing pavilion into a space that was once a night club, but it barely serves our ever-growing operations.
Our trusty old workhorse’s time is over. Concrete is spalling from salt air and water, the pilings are brittle, and it has become a hazard. We are eight years beyond the maximum lifespan, and despite Galveston’s harsh climate, we’ve protracted the “expiration date” with willpower and elbow-grease. It’s been a good home and it has permitted us, like our professional counterparts around the world, to best serve the public from the most demanding beach. Your Beach Patrol covers all 32 miles of beach 24/7/365, intervenes in a half-million potential accidents annually, and serves over seven million visitors and residents each year. Galveston boasts one of the busiest, challenging, and most visited shorelines in the nation, and the demand increases every year.
Lately, the urgent need for a replacement Beach Patrol headquarters facility has been debated. Ideas of including it in a public/private partnership with Stewart Beach amenities were considered, but the two concepts are completely separate issues. Each effort serves different needs, and each financed independently. It is crucial that something happens soon for the Beach Patrol headquarters, as it increasingly costs more to keep it safe enough to occupy, and lifesaving operations are impacted. This summer our Junior Lifeguard Program, a critical feeder for lifeguard staffing, will operate out of a tent to ensure the campers’ safety.
With more than 140 lifeguards and dispatchers, 120 Junior Lifeguards, and another 60+ volunteers, a safe, 24-hour, all-weather sand-base facility is critical for training, working space, and supervision. To mitigate risk for our children and adults, direct access to the beach and water must be accessible without the danger of crossing Seawall Boulevard while carrying rescue equipment. When covering assigned beachfront zones, rescue vehicles need to stay on the beachfront to relay information and deliver lifesaving equipment while continually protecting beach patrons and guards. An on-beach facility is also critical in providing an unobstructed view to handle weather and medical emergencies, lost children, and command and control of our most populated beach.
Our Park Board is committed to finding a timely, cost-effective solution to meet the needs of the Beach Patrol because Galveston’s beach patrol is one of the largest, most professional, and in-demand lifeguard services in the world. They need your support because Galveston deserves and demands a first-class, professional facility for its world-renowned patrol to work, train, and deploy from.
We urgently need a new home, and the clock is ticking.
We are now officially in the nicest time of the year in Galveston! Cooler weather is almost upon us, but the water will be warm enough to enjoy without a wetsuit for several weeks. Each day seems to be emptier and more beautiful than the one before. This time of year seems to be when all the locals get out to enjoy the beach and remember how nice the spring and fall are here on our island.
Tomorrow is a big day for water people. Two amazing events will be taking place at Moody Gardens.
In the morning, starting early, the annual Battle on the Bay hosted by Island Paddle and Houston Heat Dragon Boat Club will kick off. Dragon Boat racing has a long, rich history dating back more than 2500 years to the Guangdong Province in Southern China. In the modern era it is a sport that takes the idea of teamwork to its highest level. Teams consisting of up to 22 members, train to work together to reach the finish line first. It’s also one of the fastest growing sports.
Stand-up paddling (SUP) and kayak / canoe racing, although more recent, have strong followings as well. SUP paddling is one of the most popular activities among first-time participants because it’s so easy to get started and improvement comes rapidly. What many do not realize is that SUP, kayaking and dragon boat activities share much of the same technique and mechanics. There will be both 5K and 10K SUP races, prone paddle races, and canoe, kayak, and surf-ski races. These will be interspersed with Dragon Boat heats. These guys do it right, so if you want to race, watch, or try out dragon boats come on down and join the fun. More info can be found at www.islandpaddle.com.
As if that wasn’t enough fun for one day, the Endless Summer Surf Reunion will be held that evening- also at Moody Gardens from 7-12. The first ever showing of 70’s Galveston surf scene movie “Broken Waves” will happen during the event. This is a wild, great bunch of people that all hung out together in the 70’s in Galveston surfing and forming what is now our surf culture. They’ll have music, an auction, the movie, and more right in that main pyramid of Moody Gardens. Here’s a link if you’re interested www.squareup.com/store/jerry-shelton-esgr . They’ve generously named our lifesaving association as their donation recipient this year, so all proceeds will support the Galveston Junior Lifeguard Program or will go to enhancement of our flooding response capabilities unless otherwise specified. We were much better prepared for Harvey than we were for Ike, but there are still some ways we can better serve our community the next time something similar rolls around. We can’t thank the Endless Summer crew enough and are really excited about connecting with such a fun and altruistic group.
So whether you get to either event or just up to the beach, be sure and get out there this weekend and enjoy all that living on our island has to offer.
One of the things that’s such a privilege about my job is getting to see so many people enter our program at 10 as a Junior Lifeguard, and blossom into truly exceptional people as they move up through the program and enter adulthood. Allow me to introduce you to Ellie Cherryhomes.
Ellie is the youngest of three and was raised by a single mother, who is one of our biggest supporters and is always there for Ellie. At times her mom has held down three separate jobs to make things work. Ellie also has a father and three half siblings in Equatorial Guinea, which may have contributed to her broad world view.
As she finishes her third year of guarding, Ellie’s accomplishments are impressive. She recently graduated 5th in her class from Ball High School. She won a “Research and Design” internship at UTMB. She was the National Honor Society President and the Vice President of the Technical Honor Society. She was also Captain of the Water Polo Team.
6 hours after graduating she was on a plane to California. She was one of the two first recipients of the Ben Carlson Scholarship, given in memory of the Newport Beach Lifeguard that died tragically a year ago during a big wave rescue. His death and her first big rescue happened on the same weekend and she feels a connection. She received a fairly large sum of cash for school, which will help her pay her way through college. She also received clothes, a wetsuit, and a custom board from Hurley which won’t hurt either!
Beach Patrol has been a big part of Ellie’s life. She describes it as, “…more of a lifestyle than a job”, and feels it has given her a good set of friends and connection to the ocean. Not many of her peers have the same qualifications and experience. Nor have they been “entrusted with such a high level of responsibility- not just for people, but for the ocean and nature in general”. She feels this has given her a real leg up on college applications and other awards she’s received.
Through her connection with Beach Patrol, sports, and the ocean she found a mentor in Joe Cerdas, a full time Supervisor/Officer. Joe is the leader of a stand up paddle group that has been branded “Ocean Tribe”. With Joe and his dedicated band of athletes she’s competed all over the state and elsewhere.
Most recently, Ellie won a very prestigious scholarship from National Geographic, where she spent a month traveling in northern India with a group and three professional photo journalists. Staying with farmers, teaching in schools, and being exposed to all kinds of new things was “life altering”.
It will be interesting to see where Ellie ends up. We do know that she’s the best that Galveston and the Beach Patrol has to offer. Wherever she goes she’ll move forward with integrity, genuineness, and a real commitment to do more than scratch the surface of our lived experience.
You can feel summer slipping away. It’s not just the cooler temperatures and the fact that we’re starting to see frontal systems push all the way through. There’s something in the light, the shorter days and the look of the surface of the water that is just different.
Last Sunday was the last day of the year for John’s Beach Service at Stewart Beach. Max Wilson has been working for decades along with his brother Walter. It’s a model business that runs like clockwork. Part of the winning formula is to not change what works. They open each year on Good Friday and close the last Sunday of September. They dig the holes at 7:30am and the umbrellas come off the beach at 5pm. Like the birds that migrate south, Max leaves just after they close to travel the world. For many years he went all over the place. But countries are like people and people are attracted to both like-minded people and countries. Max spends the majority of his off season in Australia. But for me, Max leaving is as much a portent of fall as the cooler weather.
For me this signifies the best time of the year. The beaches are beautiful and empty. The weather is still warm but more comfortable. And the burden of managing a staff of over 100 millennials and a day camp of nearly 100 teens and pre-teens is lifted somewhat. I love them but am happy to have some time that involves more planning than in crisis-management. I also like the way that without all the distraction of crowds it feels like we can see the beach and all the wildlife again.
Tuesday will be our very last day for working seasonal guards. Stewart Beach Park’s last day is Sunday and East Beach is already closed for the season. The lifeguard towers will be picked up mid week and moved to a central location so our staff can refurbish them during the winter months. But we still have plenty of guarding to do. Our full time staff of 9 will be working double time to cover the beaches from the rescue trucks and will continue to patrol until December. Then in February we’ll start again although, like always, we’ll continue to provide emergency response to 911 calls year round.
Last weekend was the G-Bay Paddle that was based at Moody Gardens and happened in Offats Bayou. This event was held for the second time and nearly doubled in size since last year. It is a day of racing Stand Up Paddleboards (S.U.P.s) and kayaks. Beach Patrol and the Galveston Police Department Marine Division provided the water security and Galveston EMS handled the medical coverage. It went pretty well. We only rescued one person who ended up being ok after a little attention from EMS. The sport of S.U.P. is taking off in leaps and bounds and we should expect to see more of this type of event in the near future.
Some people are wired different than others. Some candles burn brighter. Some people are larger than life. Archie Kalepa is such a person.
Archie was the Lifeguard Chief in Maui for quite awhile. We are the same age and knew each other originally through the United States Lifesaving Association and forged a friendship through the years. Archie recently retired his position to become the primary “ambassador” for Olukai sandals and to pursue other interests.
Visiting Archie in Maui is like visiting a prince. Driving through Lahaina with him in his giant monster truck pulling a boat or with an assortment of boards and water toys is almost impossible due to all the people waving, honking, flagging him down, asking favors, or just wanting to chat. But all the attention doesn’t seem to get to him. He stays focused, stays humble, and shows respect to each and every one. He knows every kid that waves as they see him and smiles, yelling “Uncle Archie!” Surfing with him is even better. In a place known for fierce localism, ultra competitive world class surfing, and an overabundance of testosterone in the lineup, you’d expect trouble. But paddling out with Archie gives you a magic shield. Guys that would terrify you in an alley are all smiles and “Your wave brudda”.
This attention has been earned not just by being a nice guy. Archie is a true legend that earned respect in a world full of very accomplished lifeguards, surfers, and athletes by becoming one of the most accomplished watermen on the planet.
His pedigree is impeccable and he comes from a long line of Hawaiian legends. But he carved his own way. Archie first became a local hero when he saved 15 people and one dog during Hurricane Iniki. He was one of the original pioneers in rescue with a personal water craft. In fact, the watercraft rescue program we have here is based on training and materials he, Brian Keaulana and a handful of others provided us.
Outside of lifesaving, he is known as a legendary big-wave surfer. He has performed stunts for Hollywood movies, traveled extensively sharing his knowledge of water rescue, and is one of the few people in existence that is comfortable riding the monster waves of the infamous Maui break “Jaws”. And by “monster” I mean 8 story tall waves! He also is one of a handful of people who pioneered the use of the surf foil and one of the surfers who renewed interest in riding and paddling the stand up paddleboard (SUP), the use of which is sweeping the world now.
As a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Archie has traveled to Tahiti on both the Hokulea and the Hawaiiloa traditional voyaging canoes, and is dedicated to resurrecting interest in the traditional Hawaiian sport of canoe surfing.
You can meet Archie this Sunday. Around 5pm, Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties and Olukai Sandals are sponsoring an intimate meet & greet followed by live music at Galveston’s own Beach Hut.
See you there!
Finally! Spring feels like it’s just around the corner. After the long, long winter there’s finally that feeling in the air. The cold is still there but doesn’t seem to penetrate all the way to your bones and even if it’s cold in the morning you’re able to get by with a thin layer or just a t-shirt by the afternoon.
The water, however, doesn’t seem to know that it’s time for winter to relinquish its grasp. On Tuesday, we did a beach workout and were still wearing full suits and hoods, although boots and gloves weren’t necessary. The water temp was 58. Warmer air temperature means that people on stand up paddleboards have been surfing with either just a wetsuit top or even “bare backing” it while people surfing prone are still in full winter gear.
The spring breakers were undaunted by the cold water though. Each time the sun popped out or the wind died they suddenly appeared all over the beach. The first volleyball tournament of the season went off well at Stewart Beach. The lifeguards, shivering in their towers, had to move a number of them away from the rip currents near the jetties. There were, however, some days where it was just too cold to put the guards in the towers in the mornings. Fortunately we kept a number of them on standby knowing that the afternoon would warm up and as soon as the sun popped out and hundreds would suddenly show up. It seems like there were lots of people here on the island hanging out in restaurants, hotel rooms, The Strand, or one of our many tourist attractions waiting for that ray of sunshine so they could hit the beach.
This weekend is the last of Spring Break. It will be safe to drive down the seawall for a short time until summer is really upon us. No one will meander across the lanes in front of you with speeds varying between 5mph and 45. No one will pull a U-turn, almost hit you, and then post up by a potential parking space, unashamedly blocking traffic, while 5 people take 20 minutes to load two chairs and a cooler into the back of their vehicle. But enjoy it while it lasts, because soon it will be time to retreat to the “secret” way you have to move around the interior of the island!
This weekend the Houston schools and a handful of colleges are at the end of their Spring Break and the weather forecast looks pretty good, so we may see those big crowds we’ve been expecting. As it stands this far, the Beach Patrol has only made one rescue. It was a good one though. We, with the help of our police, fire, and EMS partners, saved a father and daughter from drifting off shore on a really cold north wind day. They likely wouldn’t have survived if someone hadn’t had the good sense to call 911.
And so it begins….