Peter Davis has spent decades keeping people safe.
The Galveston Island Beach Patrol chief, a native Galvestonian, not only trains new lifeguards to work and keep people safe on one of Texas’ busiest beaches. He’s spent his career traveling around the world to train lifeguards in other countries to do the same.
Now, in recognition of that work, Davis has been chosen to be recognized alongside Olympians and other aquatic luminaries.
Davis was named to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in January. He will be inducted into the hall in a ceremony in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in May.
Established in 1964, the hall of fame honors swimmers from across the spectrum of water sports and activities— including competitive swimming, water polo and diving.
Davis will be inducted to the Hall of Fame for his contributions to aquatic safety. When he is inducted he will join the likes of Olympians Mark Spitz and Greg Louganis.
Davis was chosen in part because of his efforts since the 1980s to educate beachgoers on the dangers of rip currents, and for his work developing lifesaving programs in Central and South America.
In an interview in February, Davis said that it was an honor to be named to the hall of fame to be alongside other men and women who have helped innovate lifeguarding, like Bob Burnside, the former lifeguard chief in Los Angeles County, California, who invented the lifeguard can.
Asked whether he felt like an equal to those people, Davis was modest.
“I feel like I’ve been able to get a lot of stuff done in life-saving development, especially in South America and Central America,” he said. “But when I say ‘I’ it’s always been a part of a team. We do all this great stuff and then I get to stand up and get the accolades for it.”
“It’s definitely not just an individual thing,” he said.
Davis, 53, has been a lifeguard since high school. He joined the Galveston Island Beach Patrol full-time 1992 and became chief in 2007.
In his time at the beach patrol, Davis has also advanced up the ranks of lifesaving groups, like the International Lifesaving Federation and the United States Lifesaving Association, of which he is currently the president.
In all of his roles, Davis has used his position to advocate for sharing best practices for life-guarding and spreading those lessons far and wide.
In 2001, he helped create a lifeguard exchange program with Vera Cruz, Mexico. After that program began, Davis was asked to help train lifeguards in Venezuela.
He spent the last 15 years making semi-annual trips to Venezuela, and his work has brought him to at least 20 other countries, he said.
“It’s nice, because I get to see the way they do things in other places, and then we get to use a lot of that stuff here,” he said.
Davis said that part of the reason that he’s been able to be so effective in teaching lifeguarding in places around the world, is because of his experiences leading the Galveston Beach Patrol, a relatively small department that nevertheless watches over some 7 million beachgoers to every year.
“We’re handling crowds like San Diego,” he said. “Why we’ve been able to be useful to groups in the developing world is that we’ve been able to do a lot with a little. In these resource scarce environments, you’re working with the same principles.”
Over a long career, Davis said he’s lost count of how many rescues he’s done in the water, but he still remembers his first saves as a lifeguard. The first was a relatively calm retrieval of a tired swimmer. His second was more dramatic, he said. A Vietnam veteran was caught in a net at the end of the pier by the Flagship Hotel.
“He was seeing helicopters and was fighting me,” he said. “That was a more dramatic one.”
He estimated that he would make 20 to 25 rescues in a season when he started, he said. Today, with a larger staff and better training, the beach patrol is less reactive than in days past, he said.
Davis said he had no plans to end his hall of fame career any time soon.
“I really like the mentoring part, I like teaching people, I like the training and I really, really like dealing with the public,” he said. “The population is so diverse and it’s so fun to be out there when people are doing things that they’ll remember their whole life, and that to me just never seems to get old.”