More safety needed for surf competitors

Robert C. Johnston.

 

14-year-old Matthew Barclay was killed at Kurrawa Beach during the 2012 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships ("Aussies") after being hit on the head by his board.

14-year-old Matthew Barclay was killed at Kurrawa Beach during the 2012 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships (“Aussies”) after being hit on the head by his board.

This was printed in The Manly Daily (‘More safety needed for surf competitors’), on April 4th, 2012.

HAVING been a surf boat rower who has twice competed in Aussies at Kurrawa, and a volunteer lifesaver for 10 years, my thoughts have been with the Barclay and Bird families this past week.

While Kurrawa is a dangerous beach and an alternative should be sought immediately, it must be noted that most competitor lifesavers are aware of the inherent risks of competing in the surf – more so than many people in the community – and unpredictable things can happen at any beach.

19-year-old ironman Saxon Bird was drowned at Aussies at Kurrawa Beach in 2010, after being struck by a stray surf-ski in heavy surf.

19-year-old ironman Saxon Bird was drowned at Aussies at Kurrawa Beach in 2010, after being struck by a stray surf-ski in heavy surf.

 

I do believe some lessons have been learnt after the tragic death of Saxon Bird, particularly – and not insignificantly – within surf club culture: in a sport teeming with bravado, it has become far more acceptable to say the surf is too dangerous to go out.

As for ways forward, slim-fitting, unobstructive life vests that permit duck-diving sound like a possible option, and maybe thick silicone swimming caps.

A surf boat crew gets airborne (Photo: Jon Dibbs). A 15-year-old rower, Robert Gatenby, was drowned at Aussies at Kurrawa Beach in 1996 after a collision with another surf boat in cyclonic conditions.

A surf boat crew gets airborne (Photo: Jon Dibbs). A 15-year-old rower, Robert Gatenby, was drowned at Aussies at Kurrawa Beach in 1996 after a collision with another surf boat in cyclonic conditions.

 

Surf ski competitors battle through the surf break at Aussies, Kurrawa, April 2012.

Surf ski competitors battle through the surf break at Aussies, Kurrawa, April 2012.

But perhaps the use of tiny GPS locator chips could also be phased in, to be worn on the ankles of all competitors so their position can be isolated if they go under the water.

That way, you are not taking away from the sport of it, but at the same time providing a much higher measure of protection should something go horribly wrong.

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