Surfers are being trained in first aid and board rescue skills to help in emergencies at West Australian beaches and remote locations when life guards are not on hand.
Surfing WA and Surf Life Saving WA have joined forces in a free program that takes advantage of the fact surfers are in the ocean all year from dawn to dusk, and in places that are not always patrolled.
The idea is to give surfers the knowledge and confidence to help a swimmer needing rescue or CPR, or a surfer injured by a surfboard or on a reef.
Tom Dickson, Surfing WA’s sports development manager, said surfers used about 80 per cent of the coast and were often the first ones on hand in an emergency.
“As soon as we started to engage surfers we realised that most of them had been in a situation where they’d had to rescue either a fellow surfer or a swimmer in the ocean environment,” Mr Dickson said.
Surfer Andrew Hunter experienced the dangers of the coast first hand.
He suffered significant spinal injuries when he was surfing at a Perth beach and the wave pitched him head first into the sand.
He counts himself lucky to have recovered.
John Snook has seen numerous rescues by surfers along the coast. (ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)
“It was pretty touch and go, and it’s situations like those where surfers really need to have the right people around them, because that early first aid, as they call it, is really critical to particular recovery,” Mr Hunter said.
Surfing WA provides trainers for the program’s board rescue skills course, while Surf Life Saving WA will conduct the first aid segment.
“The fact is life savers just aren’t out there all of the time and in a lot of the time, in places, surfers are,” Surf Life Saving WA general manager Chris Peck said.
John Snook is the coordinator of beach services at the City of Stirling, which is supporting the program. He said he had seen numerous rescues by surfers up and down the coast.
“If the surfers are trained and able to provide that immediate care, they can keep that person alive until such time as the beach inspectors or life guards or the volunteer life savers are able to attend and take over,” Mr Snook said.
In an extreme situation, these skills can be put to use in a shark attack.
That was the situation for Eddy Killgallon, who tried to help save Nick Edwards after he was attacked by a shark in Gracetown in 2010 and bled to death.
“Knowing the process, prioritising what to do first, you know, those are the things that I think are really, really critical,” Mr Kilgallon said.