Some people dream all year of hitting the beach. But for many lucky area

residents, the beach is part of daily life. This month, Coast caught up with people who play and work on the beaches, along with those who fight to protect them.

Mary Stewart: Beach Patrol

Mary Stewart is living her dream as a member of Galveston’s elite Beach Patrol.

A graduate of Texas A&M University at Galveston, Stewart, 25, first joined the island’s lifesaving squad when she was 11 years old.   

She grew up in Houston, but spent much of the summer in her family’s bay house on the island.

“I was a shy child and my mom pushed me to join junior lifeguards,” she said. “I loved it from the first day. I said then that I would never leave it and I never have.”

At age 16, Stewart earned a coveted slot on the senior Beach Patrol. After graduation from Memorial High School, she enrolled at Texas A&M University at Galveston so she could continue to work with the Beach Patrol.

“I love being outside in the sun and sand and water,” she said. “I love the physical activity, the training and, of course, the people, who are like family to me.”

When she isn’t patrolling the beach, Stewart likes to compete in marathons and other competitions. She spends her free time stand-up paddling, swimming, skateboarding and, when the waves are right, surfing.

Stewart has made dozens of rescues in the last 10 years. One that sticks in her memory is a man who was unconscious in the water.

“The hours and hours of training just kicked in,” she said. “I got him. We were on the beach. And I started CPR.”

Stewart holds an emergency medical technician certification and serves as the supervisor of lifeguards.

“I have a deep commitment to this work,” she said. “Too often, visitors underestimate the power of Mother Nature. They think we control the Gulf like it’s a wave pool.”

— Marsha Canright

Kai Davis: Surfer Girl

Legendary surfer Phil Edwards once said: “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.” That puts 8-year-old Kai Davis among the best.

Since the ripe age of 3, Kai has been riding waves with her father, Galveston Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis. Because of her father’s job, growing up on the beach is just a way of life for Kai.

Apart from her usual surfing spot outside her home on Bermuda Beach, the second-grader at KIPP Coastal Village has paddled her father’s 9-foot surfboard onto the beaches of Panama, Florida and Hawaii.

Her favorite place to surf is Hawaii, because “it was really pretty” and she dreams of checking out the waves in Miami one day.

What does she want to do when she grows up? Surf with her dad, Kai said.

“I want to surf tandem,” she said.

Her love of the water doesn’t stop with the waves. Kai also can be found in the pool alongside her teammates with the Galveston Island Swim Team.

The young surfer also is quite the entrepreneur. With the help of her mother, Carol Davis, Kai has created her own bug repellent and lotion products called Beach Bunny Beauty Products.

With summer upon us, Kai wants “to hang out at the beach.”

— Daniel Durbin

Max Wilson: The Umbrella Man

Max Wilson was born in Galveston in 1942, just one month after Stewart Beach opened to great public fanfare.

In a way, they were meant for each other.

Wilson was the fifth of 11 children, and by age 7, he had his first job picking up bottles on Stewart Beach.

By 1951, Wilson was working for Harry Kahler, manager of John’s Beach Services, one of the first concessionaires for Stewart Beach Park. The service provided umbrellas and chairs to beach patrons, just as it does today.

In those days, there was a stable at Stewart Beach, a skating rink and a carwash, Wilson said. When he wasn’t busy with umbrellas, he was at the stables, or putting out fliers.

Wilson worked for the beach service every summer season until he entered the military in 1960.

“When I finished my military duty, there were lots of opportunities,” he said. “I could work on the Alaska pipeline, join the merchant marine, or return to the beach service.

“I flipped a coin — and what do you think — it was the Alaska pipeline. But I didn’t want to work on the pipeline, so I chose the beach service. It was a good decision.”

Wilson has been with the beach service now for 50 continuous years. He bought the company in 1971.

These days, Wilson works about five months each year. In the high season, he has 16 employees.

It was Wilson, among others, who urged the city council to ban alcohol from Stewart Beach in the 1980s. The council tried a temporary ban and later made it permanent. Wilson said he was proud to be a part of that movement.

— Marsha Canright

Gini Brown: The beachcomber

The joy of seeking shells is beyond what you find, lifelong beachcomber Gini Brown said.

“It’s being out on the beach in all seasons, early in the morning, with the birds calling overhead and the wide-open waters,” Brown said.

One magical morning, East Beach was covered with a blanket of calico cockleshells, she said. Another time there were hundreds of sand dollars.

All you need to get started is a bucket and a book on identifying shells,” she said.

Her favorite is “The Shell Book,” by Windward Publishing.

“I think the best time to go shelling is early morning, especially if a full moon creates a very low tide,” she said. “I prefer the winter months, when there are fewer people. It’s also fun to go a few days after a storm, when all kinds of things are left along the beach.”

Brown favors the large, perfectly peaked whelks but also appreciates the tiny, elaborate wentletraps she finds on the shell banks and caught in seaweed. Her favorite is the sand dollar.

She grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., and spent summers with her family at the beach near Guilford, Conn.

In 1945, she married a Texas geologist and the couple moved to Venezuela, later Canada and then Shreveport, where she raised her family. After her children were grown, she moved to Galveston with her second husband, Harry. The two spent many happy hours strolling and shelling on the beach.   

Brown’s collection of more than 1,000 seashells was reclaimed by the Gulf when Hurricane Ike’s 12-foot wall of water washed away every item in the lower level of her bay front condominium.

“They came from the sea, and they returned to the sea,” she said.

— Marsha Canright

Silver: Beach buddy

Few creatures love the beach more than dogs do. And few things are more enjoyable than watching a dog play on the beach. Silver, pictured here, was no exception. Coast, with the permission of the Galveston Island Humane Society, took Silver, a retriever/border collie mix, out on the beach for a photo shoot in late May.

The energetic, former stray Silver was far more interested in running around and burying a dog treat than in cooperating with the photo shoot. She had so much fun on the beach, it was tough to take her back to the shelter. Luckily, she was adopted soon after the photo shoot.

We hope many more like Silver find homes. In that spirit, Coast is offering to sponsor a pet — cat or dog — adoption at the Galveston Island Humane Society, 6814 Broadway on the island. Coast will cover the pet adoption fees for the first person to mention this article when adopting at the Galveston Island Humane Society.

We realize there are many other shelters in the county, and we hope to work with them in the future on such a promotion.

Are you wondering where we found that patriotic bow tie? Blue Beagle Boutique, based in League City, has them and many other accessories. Visit www.bluebeagleboutique.etsy.com.

— Laura Elder

Surfrider Foundation: Beach protectors

Organized, engaged and effective probably aren’t the first words that come to mind when you think about surfers, whose whole mythos is built around a laid-back attitude. But when you’re talking about the Surfrider Foundation, those button-down words are accurate. The foundation is among the most active activist groups around.

The 30-member Galveston chapter is the newest of five in Texas, Jeff Seinsheimer, its chairman, said. It’s part of an international organization of more than 50,000 members from all walks of life operating in 80 local chapters in the United States, said Seinsheimer, who helped form the Galveston chapter four years ago.

“Our mission is the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches,” he said.

The organization at large has built a statewide reputation over the past 15 or so years for fighting intrusions against the Texas Open Beaches Act. The relatively new Galveston chapter has joined in that work and has many projects of its own.     

It adopted the stretch of beach between 47th to 53rd streets for periodic cleanups and installed receptacles for monofilament fishing line on several rock groins in an effort to keep the stuff out of the environment.

The chapter is about to install fireproof cigarette butt receptacles at various spots on the beach.

“Our chapter’s current focus is on our Bring The Bag Campaign, which attempts to place a ban, or at least a fee, on single-use plastic bags given to customers by retailers in Galveston,” Seinsheimer said.

“We encourage people to bring reusable bags when they shop, and use biodegradable bags for pets. We are teaching folks how to make bags out of their old T-shirts, by cutting off the sleeves and sewing the bottom closed,” he said.

The chapter also works to discourage single-use plastic bottles, and promotes reusable bottles as an alternative.

“We remind the public that most marine trash is actually land based,” Seinsheimer said. “We promote ocean friendly gardens that have water collection systems and native plants that require little water. We remind the public that excess fertilizer ends up in our bays.”

Seinsheimer said chapter members are a diverse group united by a love for the beach, the water and the outdoors in general and by a sense of responsibility for their care.

“I call myself a waterman,” he said. “I love fishing and surfing and beachcombing. I just like being outside and doing things and I want the next generations to have what I had.

“I always tell our members ‘If not us, then who?’ Mother Ocean can’t speak for herself.”

The chapter meets at 7 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at Mod Coffeehouse, 2126 Postoffice St. in the island’s downtown. Visit www.facebook.com/GalvSurfrider.

— Michael A. Smith

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