Outside the flags, surfers are saving lives

February 7, 2024 BY

Concerns are growing that a new approach is needed outside the flags and outside of life saving patrol times. Photos: ED SLOANE / SURFING VICTORIA

SURFERS along the coast have completed rescues in recent weeks, prompting calls for policymakers to expand safety strategies beyond traditional flagged areas.

Two local surfers led a rescue operation last week at Lorne beach, saving a 10-year-old girl caught in a rip current.

The previous week, surfers at Jan Juc rescued about a dozen swimmers from rips they described as “the worst ever seen”, prompting calls that a new approach is needed outside the flags and outside of life saving patrol times.

UNSW Beach Safety Research Group professor Rob Brander said while the “swim between the flags” message was essential, it alone is not enough to ensure complete beach safety.

“The reality is that people are drowning at unpatrolled beaches.

“I think we need to accept that’s going to be the reality.”

Prof Brander. is advocating for alternative strategies in these less monitored areas.

One initiative is Surfers Rescue 24/7, a board rescue and CPR course for surfers offered by Surfing Victoria.

Surfing Victoria’s Liam Robertson said the program was both popular and getting results.

“The program gives participants the confidence in their abilities to perform a rescue and therefore their willingness to perform a rescue in the ocean is much higher, which is great.

“And the feedback across the board has been positive.”

However, the program faced funding cuts in 2023 and is now operating at a reduced capacity.

“We had four years’ worth of funding that finished in end of June 2023, which was funded by the Victorian government through Emergency Management Victoria.

“Then from that we’ve managed to secure a small amount of funding through Play it Safe by the Water, which is a water safety initiative in Victoria

“That’s allowed us to manage the program at a much smaller scale, so we’re only doing around five to six public courses a year, as opposed to the 20 to 30 we conducted the previous year.”

Prof. Brander said alternative approaches should not replace the traditional beach safety message.

“We still need to push the swim between the flags message, but we can’t continue to ignore the unpatrolled beaches.”

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