The group of young men and women radiated nervousness as they lined up on the sand. “On your mark, get set, go!” shouted the instructor as they raced down the beach around the tower and into the water.
I was about halfway out to the buoy when a group of good swimmers caught me and basically swam right over me. By the time I got going again, a wave smacked me right in the face as I was taking a breath. When I got to the buoy, I had to hang on for a few seconds to catch my breath before pushing on.
The year was 1983 and I finished 11th out of 30 in the Beach Patrol tryouts. They took the top eight.
Finally, around the 4th of July, I got a call that I could come and work. There was no formal training and no special first aid course other than what I got when I took the Red Cross pool lifesaving course. I was just given a radio and sent to work.
Saturday is the first of three tryouts for the Beach Patrol, starting at 7 a.m. at the UTMB pool. If you know anyone who wants to work on the Beach Patrol, spread the word.
The basic swim test is the same as it was 32 years ago when I bombed it. Details are on our website, texas
Candidates who want to start working right away can go through the first lifeguard academy during spring break. We pay them to attend the school where they are certified in CPR, first aid and beach lifeguarding.
They also go through training in tourist relations, city codes pertaining to Galveston’s beaches, Gulf Coast ecology and nearshore topography and hydrology.
Coupled with all the classroom work is hands-on training in how to swim and make rescues in surf, search and recovery and the basics of lifesaving sport. It’s a busy week, and we’ll do it all over again the second week in May for the second lifeguard academy.
In addition to training for new lifeguards, we are starting our annual training session for dispatchers, supervisors and personal water craft rescue operations.
By the time Memorial Day weekend hits, we’ll be up to speed.
Despite the huge amount of effort all this requires of our permanent staff members, there’s a big payoff for both our staff and the public. The inconsistent training that once took a whole summer is taught in a uniform manner. Each employee is taught the same material and instilled with similar core values. Any one of our guards can handle whatever is thrown at them when and if they complete the training.
So, for those that would like to try being a beach guard, I hope you’ll give it a shot. I’m so happy I squeaked in all those years ago.
For me, it was a life-changer. Not many people get to go home at the end of the day with the knowledge that they saved someone.
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. Information on the Beach Patrol is at galvestonbeachpatrol.com.