Watch: Connected by Water // The story behind the big wave safety movement

Stu Nettle
Reels

The origin story of the big wave floatation vest is well-known: How in 2010, a two-wave hold down at Mavericks inspired Shane Dorian to develop the V1 floatation vest.

The vest has become a safety standard and has allowed big wave paddle surfing to keep progressing. It's not the only thing, however, BWRAG - Big Wave Risk Assesment Group - has armed big wave surfers with the skills to rescue and rescuscitate fellow surfers, collectively raising their confidence.

BWRAG has its own origin story, one that also began at Mavericks albeit a year after Dorian's wipeout.

From the makers of Connected by Water:

The loss of surfer Sion Milosky at Mavericks in 2011 left the big wave surfing community reeling from the loss of another talented surfer. It was a wake-up call. Big wave surfing was advancing faster than safety protocols, and something had to change. Later that year, a group of surfers led by Kohl Christensen and Danilo Couto gathered in Kohl’s barn on the North Shore of Oʻahu and held a CPR course taught by a veteran emergency room nurse. This was the first unofficial meeting of the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG). The following year, BWRAG held its first public summit at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, expanding its teachings from CPR to first aid, water rescue skills and more.  

  A couple of years later, veteran Hawaiian lifeguard, surfer and ocean risk specialist Brian Keaulana joined BWRAG, bringing with him decades of ocean safety knowledge that substantially expanded BWRAG’s training offerings. Over the next decade, BWRAG evolved into an international gold standard, holding summits all over the world that covered ocean risk management, CPR and AED training, first-aid medical intervention, spot analysis, mindful breathing and energy management, emergency action planning and water rescue, taught by some of the world’s best emergency response-trained big wave surfers and ocean technicians. BWRAG recently expanded its curriculum to apply to surfers of all levels, for conditions “from 2-20 feet.” Drawing on their experiences not just in ocean safety but as lifelong surfers, the team recognized that some of the worst surfing accidents happen in the least threatening conditions. The course now aims to empower any ocean goers to become a Surf Responder, armed with the knowledge to mitigate their risk and be an asset in an emergency.

 The 2020 class schedule was canceled due to COVID-19 and in its place, BWRAG’s Surf Responder Online Course will be available in January 2021. Pre-sale is currently open here. These classes give the participant the training, knowledge and confidence that they need to help with water rescue scenarios. For BWRAG, taking the initiative to gain this knowledge is part of an obligation all surfers share to look out for one another in the lineup. “We’re trying to change the whole mentality of surfing society, by spreading the true values of friendship, family, community, and culture in the water,” says Brian Keaulana. “We’re all one nation, which is the ocean nation. Surfers are not divided by land, we’re connected by water.”

Comments

Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy commented Thursday, 3 Dec 2020 at 12:17pm

How good is that line "Surfers are not divided by land, we're connected by water".

And the comment in the vid, "Safety was not a priority, it worked for years ... until it didn't".

Watching Aaron Golds incident on "Band of Brothers" was pretty nerve-racking.

As for the training/preparation BWRAG show here, a lot is covered by SLSC's in Aus. Except any big wave aspects and maybe vests (inflatable, they use flotation vests on the IRBs and skis). Good to see the surfers taking this on board. Shannan Worrall (Shark Eyes lad) does a heavy water course around Dunsy, also orientated to ski rescues as well as paddle rescues along with the first aid, trauma, bleeding and breathing exercises. I have spoken to a few lads that have done just the breathing (probably has another name, but teaches them to not stress and hold your breath under water for 3 or 4 min) course in Margs, they all say it is excellent and worthy.
Also noticed the flotation vests (just a vest and the short john, at reasonable prices too) are sold in the local surf shops now, and a few (minority at this stage) wear them on the bigger days, only ever seen one guy with the inflatable vest which he imported from the states (over $1k delivered). Good write up stu.

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Thursday, 3 Dec 2020 at 1:18pm

Ditto J > "how good is that line "Surfers are not divided by land, we're connected by water"...and..whilst they are clearly a commercial company, I applaud Patagonia for everything they bring to surfing, they make the former big 3 look like..er fashion clothing companies. I got a Ripcurl "drybag" as part of a deal with a new wettie last winter. It was a "wetbag" after 5 uses. I had to go through layers of RC admin - head office, online sales vs retail sales, in-store vs in-store 'this is an independent franchise" bullshit. In the end I said to the in-store manager "It's not about the money, its about the landfill that you're creating. If I was standing in a Patagonia store, do you really think we'd even be having this conversation?" As soon as I made that statement the guy (thank you) rang up a surf shop near by and went and got a FCS wetbag that functioned and I paid 1/2 the retail price to prove my point that 'surfing companies no longer have a license to disrespect the natural environment we derive so much pleasure from by selling short cycle shit.' Sorry for the rant. RIP > Sion.

Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne commented Thursday, 3 Dec 2020 at 2:39pm

Don't ever forget about the 'culture'. The real one. If you surfed on your own a lot, well a hell of a lot, out in the real sticks... you know, even a bit further out than Evans Head even!!! Even walkin' further down than snapper... even out of mobile range, even before there was a mobile range!!! And yes... even before the world wide webbies... Well, then, at any size on shallow reefs, out there, safety, getting out alive, was real.

So, there was this guy, this legend, a real one. And me and spuddy (come arny garnell) used to love reading his legendary, inspiring stuff. When the truck came up our way, and dropped the mags off, we were stoked to read about Darrick Doerner. And even before the kwackas and ropes and vests, and floats an', flares, and epurbs an'... faaark... Doerner. You wouldn't boot him outa ya culcha club shite too... would ya(s)... stupe'... again...

http://towsurfer.com/2017/05/darrick-doerner-interview-from-the-2003-tow...

https://www.blogtalkradio.com/k38/2013/11/21/big-wave-surfing-and-water-...

https://www.surfer.com/blogs/eos/darrick-doerner-cool-fault/

Thats just a smidgen... about Darrick Doerner. I met Hawaiins around the place in my travels, some even came over here. Real legend Darrick Doerner... remember that name...

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 3 Dec 2020 at 2:51pm

Didn't Darrick hurl himself over the falls not once, but twice at huge Waimea as the stunt guy for the Point Break movie?

And regards 'that line'- I think you can credit that to Dave Parmenter in a Surfer mag article years ago. I think the actual line went (and I'm paraphrasing) "As surfers, we are defined not by the lands that divide us, but by the oceans that connect us."

Anyway, anything that can heighten awareness and improve on safety in the water can only be a good thing.

1173

Robwilliams's picture
Robwilliams's picture
Robwilliams commented Thursday, 3 Dec 2020 at 4:47pm

aaron gold almost went to the end. One of the heaviest pieces of surf related footage i've seen.

Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne commented Sunday, 6 Dec 2020 at 12:21am

Just in case ya's forgot already... ya gotta love the full story... its 'culture'... again...

Hot off the press... again...

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Sunday, 6 Dec 2020 at 1:06am

Great share. Cheers MB! Some great stories in there. Always considered DD at the very top of the surfing totem pole.

Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne commented Sunday, 6 Dec 2020 at 1:22pm

Yeh, Doerner for sure. The real deal. No question... unless you wanted to swillnut him!!! Some absolutely epic, real, genuine surf history and... dare I say it... 'culture' there. He's no fucking swillnut that's for sure! Doerner was pushing, and creating that safety thing from the get go, and, well, strangely enough, it was his job to save people left right and centre, in the heaviest of heaviest situations. He was there, no surprise really, the one trusted with the 'Millenium wave'. Fuck, who could forget that.

https://www.theinertia.com/surf/laird-hamiltons-millennium-wave-reshapes...

Anyone that knows anything about basketball knows Jordan/Pippen. Its a bit different the way it went, but the real basketball aficionado's know how crucially important Scottie Pippen was to Jordan and the Bull's success story. Just how all round exceptional Scottie Pippen was. Like Doerner.

Nup, no doubt about it, Doerner weren't just 24/7 swillnuttin!!! And he couldn't hide up on there, or just be squwarkin' up a storm on the tower either!!!

How's the timing too! Its almost like... dunno what stupe' was thinkin'... but, again... Maybe he'd never heard of Doerner!!!??? Maybe he just forgot... maybe he just 'had to assume shite'... again...

Anyway, always happy to help stupe' an his 'bad' (sic) boyz out... again...

Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy commented Sunday, 6 Dec 2020 at 2:42pm

Hows the width of the stringers on those tow boards. I guess they don't want/need flex.
Only downside to DD in that last clip was when he said big wave paddle surfing was boring, he didn't get why they didn't continue to tow big jaws (for the cutties, reos, airs etc). From my perspective I think he is missing the challenge aspect, pushing yourself under your own steam and accelerating down the face to terminal velocity ... something towing cannot provide.
I guess several aspects to big wave surfing safety have evolved at different times over a long time, inflation vests just being one of them in the mix.

Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne commented Sunday, 6 Dec 2020 at 3:03pm

Yeh, he did.

Then he said he was getting his big gun and going for a quick paddle... knowing that all the outer reefs that they were amping to tow next day, and were so concerned about were firing. Yet, he, Doerner was going for another, for him, quick paddle on his gun. Maybe, for someone who's done what Doerner has, for so, so ridiculously long, at that top of the heap extreme, including a gazillion plus rescues, he was just comparing what the limitations are in the type of waves and ocean that he is ridiculously experienced and comfortable in. Obviously the most elite towers can take on waves with the idea of full bore shredding and carving that paddlers can't, and he was making that point. I think he was having a bit of a dig there too.

Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne's picture
Michael Bourne commented Sunday, 6 Dec 2020 at 3:36pm

' I think he is missing the challenge aspect, pushing yourself under your own steam and accelerating down the face to terminal velocity'

Nah, he knows all that better than most, don't forget, it is Derrick Doerner.

Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy commented Sunday, 6 Dec 2020 at 4:11pm

Thanks for the lesson MB.

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog commented Monday, 7 Dec 2020 at 8:32am

Worth view the series of interviews by Jamie Mitchel - "The Late Drop" - some great big wave stories in amongst those podcasts. The big stuff still fascinates - not always the images which can become routine but the stories of massive swells, fear and survival are interesting.

Frogg