Behest of the West: Bring back the surf guard tower

Serenity breathes safety and the surf guards emitted that oxygen.

Serenity; it’s what surrounds us.

What we see outside our windows is plastered on brochures and billboards to entice city-dwellers to take some time away from what they see when they look outside their windows.

Serenity is why they come. They want to capture what we have and bask in it for as many moments as they can score.

Right now, they’re coming to celebrate our whales with us. But they never stop coming because our serenity isn’t bound to any season.

Whenever a friend asks us why we live here we can try to describe what we see out our windows but photos and words have limits; the West Coast’s serenity does not.

Tourists tend to describe their experiences in verbose essays of first hand accounts that have made Tofino and Ucluelet Trip Advisor darlings.

We like that because it’s fun to be reminded how well we’ve done to plant ourselves in paradise.

To paraphrase a worn out saying though, this isn’t your parents’ paradise. Times have changed and time always picks a side.

Those who discovered the Coast before the Pacific Rim National Park was established in the 1970’s can remember a time when cars and tents covered Long Beach each summer.

Some may lament over the rules that came in when Parks Canada decided to protect that piece of serenity. Those born too late to know the 1960’s though have the Park to thank for the serenity they bask in. The Park kept serenity safe when tourists discovered the Coast.

Long Beach remains, the rain forest remains. Make no mistake, were it not for the Park that area would be crowded with development and not of the affordable housing variety.

But just as there was a time when cars covered the beach, there was a time when heroes watched over it. Lifeguards, called surf guards because we are where we are, stood watch from atop their surf guard tower at Long Beach.

Serenity breathes safety and the surf guards emitted that oxygen.

In 2012, Canada’s federal government cut Parks Canada’s budget by $29 million, laid off 638 Park employees and killed the Pacific Rim National Park’s surf guard service. The cuts were reported in May of that year, and just in case hope remained that the decision would be reversed, the tower was torn down in August.

Surf guards had stood watch at that tower for roughly 40 years and were reportedly credited with an average of eight water rescues per season. Their presence reminded visitors of our serenity’s dangerous side.

There was modest outcry when the surf guards were sent home but time picked a side. In any other year the surf tower’s murder would have been the talk of our towns but in 2012 the spotlight was taken.

The West Coast was reeling over the announced closure of our Coast Guard and any outcry for Parks Canada was dwarfed.

Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving—who fought harder for this Coast than he ever got credit for—held a public meeting in June, 2012, to discuss the cuts to the Park and the Coast Guard. The Park was barely brought up.

Some locals threw rocks. Tofino Mayor Perry Schmunk was loud in his opposition and came at it from an economic standpoint. Losing the surf guard, he argued,  risked losing serenity and losing serenity risked losing tourists. Oregon, a key competitor, has lifeguards on its beaches.

Schmunk’s time though picked a side, he resigned later that year.

We’re still fighting for the Coast Guard, which is the right thing to do, but when will we share the spotlight?

Every few months we hear of expensive new safety signage or new smart phone apps that will keep our visitors safe.

Surf guards made human contact with beach goers. They could spot a novice heading to the water, board in tow, and take time to interact and bring that novice up to speed on our surf.

Nobody goes to the beach to read signs and no one should bring their phone to stare at apps in the sand. There is no sign as attention-attracting as the surf guard tower was and signs can’t dive in.

We hardly raised a fuss when it happened; do we have time to raise a fuss now?

 

Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.

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