The crew has been holding up well, although it’s taking a beating. Brutal heat and persistent west wind make for hot, gritty conditions that are an assault on the senses, particularly for guards who are working long shifts in the towers day after day.

Guards in trucks and towers are moving thousands of swimmers away from some serious rip currents by structures like piers and jetties. There also have been a number of significant rip currents appearing in the middle of the beach, which have kept Galveston’s guards working double time.

Persistent wind means persistent lateral currents that run parallel to the shoreline. These, in turn, scour deep troughs, some of which are very close to shore. Additionally fat, powerful rip currents near structures take sand with them, leaving deep channels near the structure, which in turn perpetuates stronger rip currents.

A few days of semi-calm conditions can break this cycle and allow for the bottom to level out, but more than a month of continuous wind hasn’t allowed for that.

Last weekend, we had our mid-season all-staff open water swim race. The whole crew met at 7:30 a.m. for a staff picture followed by the swim. The water was rough and there was a lot of current, which makes for great training.

Also, it was a great chance for our seasoned guards to show off their skills and beat some of the newer, sometimes faster, swimmers. We have new employees that are amazing swimmers but get beat in our training races by slower but more experienced guards.

Once these new rookies get the hang of using these “tricks,”they often come out on top. This time, a big pack of people overcorrected for the current and missed the buoy, swimming past it.

Some of our best swimmers were in this pack and finished behind some of the guards who were more strategic and “picked a better line,” meaning they used the current to the maximum advantage.

We also incorporate a lot of entries and exits from the water. Repetition is a proven way to get the guards to internalize the theory that they learn in the academy and in our daily skill training sessions, so it’s automatic when making a rescue in stressful conditions.

We use races as a means to improve and hone ocean swimming and paddling skills. Some people are naturally more intuitive than others in this respect, but there is a learned component when it comes to using current and waves instead of fighting against them.

For the complete mind/body/rescue techniques tripod of lifeguarding, the final ingredient involves remaining centered under stress, opening your mind and seeing a few moves ahead. Some have an innate predisposition for this, but experience helps.

It’s critical for ocean rescue and for preventing accidents. In many ways, this ability is more important than physical conditioning or technique when racing or rescuing. It separates a good lifeguard from a great one.

And it can mean the difference between life and death.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.

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