Rio History: Treasure Hunting on South Padre Island

By STEVE HATHCOCK
Special to the PRESS

Wherever people gather to play, pay or pray, there will be treasure. Late fall has always been considered an off-season for the tourist trade here on South Padre Island, the whole Island just sorta slows down. Traffic is light, No lines at restaurants, grocery and convenience stores. The weather is beautiful and it is not unusual to walk some distance along the surf before encountering a fellow beachcomber.

One of my favorite treasure hunting spots is the stretch of shore near the south jetties, and along the beach in front of the major hotels. Most weekends, and almost every day during the summer, these are the beaches that will attract the bulk of vacationers, sunbathers, surfers, fishermen and lovers; all enjoying the sweet smell of salt air.

As owner of Almost Always Available Locksmith, I receive numerous calls from unfortunates who lost their car keys in the surf or somewhere along the water’s edge. It just stands to reason to expect some of these folks to have also lost pendants, watches, necklaces, rings, coins and other adornments in the hot, shifting sands.

You can access the beach anywhere within the city limits and walk south, but if you wish to drive a vehicle there, you must enter through a tollbooth at the entrance to Isla Blanca Park.  This is an area that is used heavily year round. Just last month, I saw several bank bags full of jewelry, coins and other “treasures” that had been found there by a professional hunter who spends the summer hunting the beaches of South Padre Island.

We have had some rather rough surf in the past couple of weeks, so it’s a wise idea to take a few minutes and study the water before going in.

When hunting the surf, I always like to pay attention to the current. Undertows are hard to detect, so one must always be aware of the conditions that cause them. Which way are the waves coming from and which direction is the wind blowing out of?

When caught in an undertow — a current which pulls the water near the bottom — floating on top will allow you to escape by swimming over the current. Rip and seaward currents — strong currents which pull the water outward from the shore — may be escaped by swimming parallel to shore until you find a break in the current. Sometimes simply “surfing” on the waves can carry you safely in. If you are planning on being in an isolated spot, it is always a good idea to carry a life ring or float pad attached to a rope.

Laying out a grid is the best way to hunt any site, but that is not always possible at a crowded beach. I will usually select a garbage can or other semi-permanent fixture as a starting point. By traversing a preplanned path, I will always be near a place where I can dump any pull-tabs, broken glass and other flotsam that I find.
From there, I study the lay of the land, choosing distances and the most easily traveled route. Remember, the detector’s coil must pass over an object before you can locate it, so choose a path that allows you to swing the detector in as wide an arc as possible. I pay particular attention to the area around playground equipment. It is here that the whole family plays. A mother pushing a swing can lose an earring. The boys playing touch football or volleyball are prime candidates for losing a class ring. The base of swing sets and gym equipment are excellent spots to hunt. I always spend a little time checking the ground around the steps and under the ramps of dune walkovers. It’s not uncommon for people to hide valuables near the pilings before going to the beach, only to be forgotten as the tired vacationers pack up the car after a long day in the sun.

You would be surprised at some of the “treasures” I’ve found wrapped up in an old cigarette package. One time I found four twenties rolled up in a cigar tube!

Then there’s the spot where dad lays on a blanket, sipping a beer or soda. He moves around a little, perhaps adjusting for the sun’s rays, or admiring the scene. Only the gulls hear the clinking sound of loose change falling from his pockets. A running child tramples the coins and as if by magic, they are seen no more. The Island has claimed her “mordida” and it’s up to you, the treasure hunter, to wrest this fortune away from nature.

Good hunting!

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