A Day on Daytona Beach

By: Denise Maloof

ADD TO FAVORITES

As a Florida destination, Daytona Beach provides countless experiences for countless beach-goers. Securing a patch of it for your towel is only the first of many potential diversions.

But no matter the attractions or distractions, the best introduction to the “World’s Most Famous Beach” may come from those who oversee its sand and surf.

Each day at the Volusia County Lifeguard Headquarters and Administration Center in the heart of Daytona Beach, a team of men and women assembles for a morning briefing. Among them this day is a predecessor, Daytona Beach native and former lifeguard Blake Curry, who is home to swim a few drills while on vacation from his firefighter-EMT job with the Baltimore (Md.) Fire Department.

The group he’s crashed forms a fraction of Volusia County’s Lifeguard Corps — a daily assembly repeated at other stations along the “World’s Most Famous Beach” — guardians who staff the iconic red tower chairs

Housed under Volusia County’s Public Protection department, the Division of Beach Safety includes the Beach Patrol and Lifeguard Corps, a conglomerate of 200 to 300 people depending on time of year and circumstance. The organization has overseen Volusia County sand — which includes Daytona Beach — in some form since 1927, and the mantra of this morning’s group always is the same; a boring day is a good day.

Off these lifeguards go, per Deputy Chief Scott Petersohn, to swim a 500-1,000-meter exercise that serves as warm-up and reconnaissance.

“It gets them out in the water,” Beach Safety Division Captain Mike Berard said. “A, just to get some exercise, just to keep them in shape and B, they get to see the surf conditions for the day. If the current’s moving on the outside different than it is on the inside, if there are a lot of holes, or, unfortunately, jellyfish — they get a good feeling of what that is for the day.”

“Drill time is the best part as a lifeguard,” said Hannah Seay, who schedules the headquarters group, along with Brian May. “It’s the most fun part of the day.”

Lifeguards are having fun today so that visitors — day-trippers or hotel guests — can, too. If you’re unfamiliar with Daytona Beach, start with www.daytonabeach.com or www.volusia.org. The latter serves up Beach 101, including a list of all 11 Volusia County beachside parks, plus maps, tips and other important information.

As with most Atlantic beaches, Daytona’s shores are bordered by Highway A1A (also N. and S. Atlantic Ave.). Once there, seek the red tower chairs. Lifeguards know the conditions; heed their whistles and orange people-mover flags. They also have the jellyfish sting remedy — another reason to set up by, and swim near, those red towers.

Never driven on the beach? The tradition began in the early 1900s, when the literal Daytona Beach was NASCAR’s original race track. Not so for you. Look for open beach ramps off A1A, pool your console change for the $5 fee and obey posted limits.

Too much salt water? Daytona Lagoon sits across from it on Earl St., among A1A’s busiest blocks. Water park slides, wave pools, a go-kart track and indoor arcade amuse all.

Two excellent beach alternatives are the circa-1886 Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse 10 miles south, and Daytona International Speedway, six miles west on U.S. 92 (International Speedway Boulevard).

Climbing the former’s 203 steps replaces daily cardio. The latter is the “World Center of Racing” and astonishing for the stock-car-racing fanatic or novice.

The Ocean Deck on S. Ocean Ave., off A1A, forgives sandy feet with a red-tile ground floor and planked upper deck. Outside, breezes provide the air conditioning. Inside, drinks arrive in glass Mason jars. You won’t err with a hot, cheesy fish sandwich or burger wherever you sit.

“I’m a shrimp guy,” said Lifeguard Corps member Ruben Gonzalez. “So I’d go to Bubba Gump’s or Joe’s.”

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is located in the Ocean Walk Shoppes on N. Atlantic Ave. Joe’s Crab Shack straddles the 88-year-old Daytona Pier. Both are popular outposts near where Daytona Beach’s historic Main Street meets A1A.

The ex-lifeguard Curry, who has finished the headquarters group’s morning drill in respectable mid-pack, tromps ashore with his surf report.

“The beach is amazing,” he said. “Always has been.”

For more information:

http://www.volusia.org/services/public-protection/beach-safety/

http://ponceinlet.org/index.cfm

http://daytonabeach.com/

www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com

http://www.daytonalagoon.com/

Directions from Interstate 95: Heading south, take Exit 261A and go east approximately eight miles on U.S. 92 (International Speedway Blvd.). You will cross U.S. 1 (Ridgewood Ave.), the Halifax River (Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway) and A1A (N. Atlantic Ave.) before dead-ending at the beach.

Daytona Lagoon
601 Earl St.
Daytona Beach, FL  32118
386-254-5020

The Ocean Deck
127 S. Ocean Ave.
Daytona Beach, FL  32118
386-253-5224

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
250 N. Atlantic Ave. No. 120
Daytona Beach, FL  32118
386-947-8433

Joe’s Crab Shack
1200 Main St.
Daytona Beach, FL  32118
386-238-4050

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
4931 S. Peninsula Dr.
Ponce Inlet, FL  32127
386-761-1821

Daytona International Speedway
1801 W. International Speedway Blvd.
Daytona Beach, FL  32114
1-800-PITSHOP

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