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Heroic: Andrew Petoumenos (hat) and Nathan Hatheier. Photo: Nic Walker

Training recreational surfers in rescue techniques could boost the number and effectiveness of rescues they perform, a new study says.

Recreational surfers are saving as many people from drowning as volunteer surf lifesavers and a new study suggests they undergo further training to prepare them for the “eventuality of having to perform a rescue”.

The study, Guardians of the Surf: The role and value of surfers in Australian beach and coastal surf rescues, by Anna Attard, an honours student at the School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNSW, found that 63 per cent of surfers felt they had saved a life but that value may be enhanced through improved training.

She calculates that the number of surfer rescues must be significant. “It would equate to 5000 rescues per year, which is comparable to the number of yearly rescues conducted by volunteer surf lifesavers.”

Ms Attard found that surfers perform a considerable number of rescues in both patrolled (45 per cent) and unpatrolled (54 per cent) beach locations.

She also states: “Surfers with prior water-safety training are more likely to perform a higher number of rescues, however ability to perform rescues is not associated with formal training but rather number of years’ experience surfing.”

She concludes: “This study clearly demonstrates that surfers are found in locations that can be hazardous to swimmers and inexperienced surfers and are often in a position to assist beach users who find themselves in trouble. However, inexperienced surfers are sometimes more hindrance than help, if they do not have the knowledge or experience to perform a successful rescue. Additionally this study identified a gap in surfer ability of treating severe injuries.

“This suggests that further training of both experienced and inexperienced surfers would help to prepare them for the eventuality of a surfer-performed rescue.’

The findings based on 545 replies conducted by online survey come after three-time runner-up world championship surfer Sally Fitzgibbons revealed she had towed a man in his 40s caught in a rip to safety outside patrol hours at Werri Beach beach south of Kiama in the new year.

Mark Windon, chief executive of Surfing NSW, said that the recreational surfer was well placed to carry out a rescue, even with surf lifesavers or a professional lifeguards around, due to the fact that they were already in the water with a flotation device.

That had prompted Surfing NSW to put 5000 surfers through the Surfers Rescue 24/7 program, a three-hour course teaching CPR and rescue techniques, he said.

“In a lot of instances they [the recreational surfer] are the first person to respond. We have recorded some amazing rescues so far,” he said.

“This research reinforces what we have been saying about recreational surfers for some time. They are the custodians of the coast and Sally Fitzgibbons has just done a Community Service Announcement for Channel Nine with us and a fair bit of it is pumping up the tyres of Surfers Rescue 24/7.”

Supporting the training scheme surf coach Nathan Hatheier and Andrew Petoumenos, both 18, rescued a fellow surfer caught out by a wave at Shark Island off unpatrolled Blackwoods Beach near Cronulla. The man was later helicoptered to hospital with suspected spinal injuries…

Read more by Tim Barlass Sydney Morning Herald 8 February 2015


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