The drive to South Padre is long.
After five hours or so, we pulled into a truck stop to get some gas.
It was more than 100 degrees, and the wind was blasting at nearly 30 mph.
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 6 a.m. 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, 4-by-100 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 South Padre Island, 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 went down there with only three people.
Along with me were Kevin Anderson and Amie Hufton, who are both good athletes and experienced competitors.
Despite this, Anderson 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, Hufton won the women’s run, got second in the swim and won the paddle.
Anderson and I finally got it together and won both the swim rescue and the rescue board rescue by wide margins.
By 1 p.m. we wrapped everything up with Team Galveston winning five firsts, three seconds, four thirds and two 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 spent 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 who 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 10 p.m.
Five 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.