Triumphant. That’s the word that comes to my mind when I think about the Galveston Island Beach Patrol and how it has weathered both literal storms and the storm of a pandemic this year.
“Between the pandemic, significantly increased crowds, a staffing shortage and rougher than normal water, this was one of the most challenging years we’ve faced in recent history,” beach patrol Chief Peter Davis said. “Fortunately, because the park board approved an increase in the hiring of year-round staff, and that we were able to get some J1 Visa workers, we pulled it off.”
Most recently, Galveston lifeguards and their junior guard contingent competed in the United States Lifeguarding Association Championships in South Padre Island. More than 1,000 lifeguards from across the country competed for honors. Not surprisingly, Galveston’s team fared well. In fact, the island’s junior guards finished with 113 Top 10 finishes. These junior guards represent an important part of the lifeguard force.
“Junior guards learn about the lifeguard’s workday by assisting real lifeguards as they perform their regular duties,” Davis said. “Our hope is that many of the participants will become the lifeguards of the future.”
And, being a lifeguard is no small feat. Especially in a place where storms are frequent and beachgoers number in the millions.
The beach patrol is a division of the Galveston Park Board. It’s funded primarily through hotel occupancy taxes. The beach patrol is a state-certified first-responder agency comprised of lifeguards, senior lifeguards, supervisors and peace officers. The organization is responsible for patrolling all 32 miles of Galveston’s beaches year-round — even during shoulder seasons.
During the offseason, a scaled-back beach patrol staff remains in place, busy with community outreach. Beginning in January, staff begins contacting area schools to schedule beach safety talks with students in second through fifth grades. These talks started locally and eventually branched out to the greater Galveston County and now include schools in parts of Houston. This year, beach patrol staff reached more than 30,000 students with their water safety messages.
“The water safety talks help us build what’s known as ‘herd immunity,’” Davis said. “We say that if the majority of a group entering the ocean has been educated on how to protect themselves, there’s more of a chance that those in the group who haven’t been educated will also be safe. It’s similar to vaccinations. We look at the over 30,000 children that were given water safety talks as if they were given a vaccine against drowning.”
Park board meetings are typically held at 1:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 601 23rd St.