Heavy water code

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

Put it down to good training or good luck, but, in Australia at least, big wave surfing isn’t that dangerous. It’s scary of course, breathing is a precondition for living, take it away and feel the primal fear kick in, yet the statistics don’t match the optics. There are a few ways to cut the numbers, but according to the Surf Life Saving Association the fifteen year average for ‘drownings with a surfboard’ is four per year. None of them happened in legitimately big waves.

Summer 2019/2020 followed the same pattern with two drowning deaths. However, earlier this year that number very nearly doubled in the space of two months. Both were surfers, not drunk beachgoers who grabbed a foamy and distorted the statistics, and in fact both were big wave surfers. In March a surfer hit the bottom at Shipstern Bluff and was resuscitated in the channel by Russell Bierke and Shane Ackerman, while in April a surfer was held down for five waves at The Right but brought back to life by the quick actions of Shanan Worrall, Jarryd Foster, Zac Haynes, and Richard Sills.

Aside from big waves, the other thing the events had in common was that all of the rescuers had put themselves through big wave safety courses.

(Tim Bonython)

Most surfers know the story of the inflatable vest. How in 2010, a two-wave hold down at Mavericks inspired Shane Dorian to conceive a vest that self-inflates when a cord is pulled. It was a big wave eureka moment, and shortly afterwards the first-generation V1 vest was produced by Billabong. On 15th March 2011, Dorian pulled into a huge Jaws barrel, fell, and for the first time pulled the V1 cord in a real-world situation. He rocketed straight to the surface.

Similarly, the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG), an Hawaiian safety organisation, was borne out of an event at Mavericks. One day after Dorian tested the V1 suit at Jaws, the same swell hit northern California and, late in the day, Hawaiian Sion Milosky was also held down for a two-wave wipeout. Twenty minutes later his body was pulled out of the water near the harbour mouth.

Rocked by Milosky’s death, several of his friends convened afterwards in Kohl Christenson’s barn to address what they saw as a lack of risk management in big waves, and how they might counter this. The group, which had Christenson and Danilo Couta at its core, expanded to include Brian Keaulana, Pat Chong Tim, plus Greg Long, Ramon Navaro, and Gabriel Villaran. Afterwards, they loosely worked on techniques, meeting each December while evolving a curriculum, until in 2014 they formally assembled as the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group with a standardised training program behind them.

The formation of BWRAG came at a pivotal moment, says Australian Coordinator Liam Wilmot. Tow surfing had led many aspiring big wave surfers into heavy waves, but, says Liam, in 2014 when BWRAG formed, “tow surfing was declining and paddle in was building.” Big wave surfers that came of age in the PWC era had leapfrogged above their level of training, and then crucially, says Liam, “we saw fewer and fewer skis in the lineup.”

What paddling purists saw as something to celebrate - the stripped-back contest of man against the ocean - others saw as a concern. PWCs weren't just a means of getting surfers into waves, they were also a rescue device when things went wrong. And increasingly, things were going wrong, as attested by Milosky’s death and other near deaths, some of them closer to home.

In 2017, Russell Bierke pulled into what he calls “a small inside section” at a Victorian wave and collided with his board, knocking him unconscious. Russ’ mate Ben Serrano, along with help from Kelly Slater, hauled Russ’ limp body onto a PWC sled and drove him to the nearest port.

Recovering in hospital, Russ pondered his fortunate outcome, telling the local paper: “Without the jetski it would be a lot different. It was definitely good to have a safety crew there because it’s a long paddle. It’s over one and a half kms.” An impossible distance to haul an unconscious body.

Shanan Worrall comes unstuck at Shippies, above, and below, moments from disaster is rescued by Jarryd Foster (Photos Craig Brokensha)

The aforementioned rescue at The Right also highlights the necessity of, not just a ski, but also a sled. “There were just a few tow teams left at the end of the day,” says Shanan Worral of the recent incident, “myself and Jarryd Foster, plus Zac Haynes, but also Richard Sills was running safety."

“We told them we’re going back home, but then I saw they didn’t have a sled on. I'm always hassling the guys, being a grandma,” explains Shanan of his safety-first schtick. “So we decided we’d stick around and watch them. Not five minutes later the shit hit the fan big time and we needed to do CPR on our sled.”

The paddle revolution may have necessitated BWRAG in Hawaii and California, but here in Australia, slab central, there are a number of waves that are still legit tow waves, and probably always will be. This means there are PWCs in the water, however, there aren’t always surfers equipped with the knowledge to carry out an intensive rescue.

“So many guys are coming out to surf The Right,” says Jarryd Foster bluntly, “and they just don’t have their shit together. They don’t have the equipment and they don’t know the training. When things go wrong they’re relying on other people to save them. That’s fucked up.” Jarryd rattles off a few names of surfers, some of them very well-known, who don’t “have their shit together” at The Right. He also names a few guys that do, one of them is Ryan Hipwood.

Hippo has surfed The Right longer than most of the current crew, including some of the locals. He was tight with the East Coast crew who discovered it and he made many early missions, pioneering journeys when they didn’t yet know what the wave could hold, nor what it was capable of. In 2011 he found out after a wipeout drove him far deeper than expected and he blacked out on the ascent. Fortunately he surfaced not far from tow partner Laurie Towner who hauled him onto the ski.

Hippo’s wipeout happened exactly eight months after Dorian’s Mavericks wipeout. “The Billabong vests weren’t on the market yet,” says Hippo. “Shane had reached out to me and said he’d give me a prototype but it hadn’t arrived by the time I left.” When he was pushed deep all Hippo had on was a paltry foam vest which couldn’t compete against the swirling maelstrom of a Right explosion.

At the time, Hippo was training hard, he was a professional big wave surfer after all, so he was “more prepared than nearly all the guys out there,” as he puts it. And even after such an alarming wipeout he wasn’t deterred by The Right - he returned to surf it a few more times. But it’s over now, the urge to surf The Right has gone. “It’s super risky, even with the vests,” says Hippo. “I achieved what I wanted and I’m getting out. These days I get more of a kick out of paddling Jaws. The Right is hard, it’s super short, hard to get deep, and it’s just fucking dangerous. At the end of the day it’s the most dangerous wave in the world.”

Wearing a foam vest, Hippo pulls into a drainer at The Right...

...prepares for the compression...

....and a minute later he surfaces from the depths (Sequence by Ray Collins)

Yet despite the ever-present danger, the crowds are still increasing at The Right and also at Shippies when it breaks at size, and this worries Shanan Worrall. So much so that he created his own big wave training course, one that predates BWRAG. If BWRAG was created in response to tragedy, the Shark Eyes Heavy Water Safety and Rescue Program was proactively trying to avert it. “We did that because we knew that someone was going to die out there,” says Shanan evenly. The first Shark Eyes course was run three years ago. “We invited all the Big Wave Daves in WA and we had twenty people turn up,” says Shanan. The course was held over two days and covered risk minimisation, rescue techniques, while Dr Dennis Millard from Surfing Doctors taught first aid and resuscitation.

Shanan organised two more courses, each of them for free, while absorbing the running costs, before deciding to charge for the most recent course. The decision to charge money drew criticism from some quarters, and also some counter-criticism in return.

“These selfish pricks are happy for everyone else to do the course so they can be rescued,” said one WA surfer who didn’t want to be identified, “but they won’t pay to do it themselves and help rescue others..? I know who has and hasn’t done the course and I’m prepared to call them out.”

Shanan's 2017 nomination for the WSL Tube of the Year (WSL/Jamie Scott)

BWRAG and the Shark Eyes Heavy Water Safety and Rescue Program aren't the only two ocean education programs. In recent years a slew of courses focussing on various breath-hold techniques have begun operating. In various ways these courses serve to improve lung capacity and hence personal safety in bigger waves. The difference between them are that the latter focus on individual performance, while BWRAG and Shark Eyes - while also including breath hold techniques in their curriculum - concern themselves with group safety. When it comes to The Right or to big Shippies, looking out for others has become much more than simply watching other people’s backs. Such are the dangers involved, it now means knowing how to resuscitate them, just as Shane Ackerman and Russ Bierke had to do at Shipsterns Bluff in March. “I looked around that lineup, “says Shane of that rescue, “and I couldn’t see anyone besides Russ who knew what to do.”

“I thought about that a lot afterwards,” reflects Shane, who’s one of the world’s best big wave bodyboarders, “if I paddle out and Russ isn’t there...well, who’s got my back? I’ve got theirs, I’ve done all the training, I take big wave riding very seriously, but who’s coming in for me?”

In 2018, Shane had to fend for himself when a paddle mission at The Right went horribly wrong. “I paddled for a wave,” says Shane, “but I had to pull back when a tow team got it further out. I pulled back, then I had to duckdive the ski, and then once I came up from the duckdive I was caught inside - got sent over on the first one then took a few twenty footers on the head.” Filmmaker Tim Bonython, who’s shot XXL Jaws, Teahupoo, and Nazare, says it was the one time in his career that he thought he’d filmed a death (see image below). “It was like he stood in front of a firing squad,” says Tim. Shane has no recollection of the incident but insists he’s learnt a lot from it.

For one, he’s developed a relationship with Shanan and the West Oz crew who he always calls ahead of a trip (says Shanan: “It helps if everyone calls ahead so we know who’s coming and what we’ll be dealing with”), he trains maniacally claiming underwater hockey as the secret to his cetacean-like lung capacity, and perhaps most importantly, he’s completely honest with himself about his motivations.

"It was like he stood in front of a firing squad,” said Tim Bonython about the situation Shane Ackerman found himself in. Check Tim's upcoming ASMF for video of the wave.

“The very least The Right will do to you is put your ego in check,” says Shane emphatically. “The worst it can do is kill you, so you’ve got to do it for the right reasons. Leave your ego at home - bring the balls but leave your ego at home.” For now, the desire to charge The Right is still there. “Some of the West Oz guys, you can tell they’re wondering how much longer they’ll do it for, but for me, I’m going to keep going back till I don’t have the hunger anymore.”

But does he still think The Right is paddleable? “Yeah. I paddled it three months after that big wipeout. Now whenever I try, I call ahead and Shanan puts aside a two hour window so he can sit on the jet ski and watch. Be my personal bodyguard.” Having a guardian angel is reassuring, yet Shane still thinks the greatest danger in big waves is when everyone has their guard down on those relatively smaller days, or on the smaller waves. “Shit can hit the fan...but you’re still stuck amongst big waves.”

“Sometimes we have a session and I think to myself, ‘I wish something went bad, so you were all brought back down’, you know?” Shane says it guiltily, it’s not a savoury thought to wish injury on fellow surfers, yet it’s for a greater good. “Give people a slap in the face, make ‘em realise that, it’s not thirty foot, but they are surfing waves of consequence.”

Shane cites his Shippies rescue, which followed a wipeout on a six foot wave, or the recent one at The Right which was a ten footer on a fifteen foot day. “My theory,” expounds Shane, “is if you’re going to surf big waves...then surf big waves! Waves that break further out, away from the shallow water.”

For his part, Russell Bierke agrees with Shane. “It’s easy to brush off the dangers when it’s a perfect twelve foot glassy day. Like, ‘What can go wrong?’ When you start getting too casual that’s when it does go wrong.”

Russ speaks from experience, as described by the aforementioned wipeout. “It felt just like any other fall,” says Russ. “If you saw it you wouldn’t have thought anything of it.” Yet it was Russ’ most serious wipeout to date, and served to remind him that, even if it’s not thirty feet, he’s still among waves of consequence.

“I used to think that guys who were super-prepared were over-reacting,” says Russ, “that they were being over the top. But I found out stuff can go wrong, and at some point it will.” Since then, Russ has done “a fair few” first aid and CPR courses, and he’s also done his BWRAG training. In fact, Shanan led that particular course.

Russ at the Right (Tim Bonython)

It used to be that big wave surfers could get by on being bull-headed and bloody-minded, but that attitude falls short in modern big wave riding. It takes an athlete's commitment to peak physical and mental well-being to survive a wipeout at The Right, and sometimes even that isn't enough. It's then that group safety kicks in. A line of text on the Shark Eyes website sums up the new collective ethos: "We aim to encourage a culture of looking out for your mates and being equiped to deal with a situation when everything goes wrong."

When Shanan Worrall began his heavy water course he knew what it had to achieve, and to date it's been succesful. Despite his premonition, they've been no deaths. When the two accidents happened last autumn, the rescuers acted swiftly and prevented the surfers from becoming statistics. However, for the clean sheet to continue it's incumbent upon all heavy water surfers to see themselves, not as individual units, but as part of a group.

Inflatable life vests have only been around for ten years, yet there's already a stigma about them in Hawaii. If you're not wearing one while paddling to an outer reef you'll quickly be pulled up about it. A similar stigma is developing around heavy water courses for surfing Australian slabs. "If someone goes down, I'm not going to let a body float past me," says Shane Ackerman, "yet I've seen people who wouldn't know what to do. That's not good enough and it needs to change."

Jarryd Foster is more succinct about it: "If you're gonna come and surf The Right then do the bloody course."

//STU NETTLE

Shark Eyes Heavy Water and Safety Program
Big Wave Risk Assessment Group

Comments

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 3:44pm

Good write up, important issue. Even if you've got no intention of ever surfing anything like the right, every surfer ought to know basic first aid and rescue techniques at a minimum. It doesn't need to be 20ft for something to go seriously wrong. If there isn't a surfer-led rescue/1st aid course you can do, the SLSA bronze medallion at a minimum will teach you some useful stuff and is definitely worth doing (likewise, their advanced first aid courses, spinal management, etc).

He who hesitates is lost

abc-od's picture
abc-od's picture
abc-od commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 5:11pm

Agree Pops, I've seen very good things come from the "minimum" Bronze Medallion.

I'd take the seven circles of hell before a five wave holddown at the Right. I hate to think what that surfer went through.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 7:23pm

I find it mind boggling that basically no one drowns from surfing big waves.
Like you said Stu maybe it’s just not that dangerous, but very scary for 99% of surfers.

It’s probably more hazardous to your health paddling out at Snapper or the Pass than paddling into a 15 footer at Shippies.

Cetus's picture
Cetus's picture
Cetus commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 8:01pm

Sorry ... the East Coast crew who discovered the Right. Tell us more about that fairy tale Stu...

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 8:33pm

Once upon a time...

On September 2nd, 2007, Chad Jackson, Brad Hughes, Sean Virtue and Dean Harrington made history. They became the first men mad enough to risk their lives at the place that we now call the Right – and thanks to photographers Phil Gallagher, Nick Jackson and Chris Whitey, it was documented.

“I was actually sitting in the pub having dinner with the local lads down that way the night before a predicted swell,” legendary WA photographer Russell Ord recalls. “And we saw the lads drive past with their ski’s loaded up. We thought we would have crossed paths the next day, however there was no sign of them at the wave we were surfing. When we came in that afternoon a lady came up to us and said… ‘Are you the guys that were surfing the point off XYZ?’ And we knew straight away it was those lads, but had no idea they scored so big. We didn’t realise for months, actually.

“I take my hat off to them because we were all on the hunt for new slabs, but they gave up a good surf day to drive along the coast and were rewarded with the crown jewels. There have been a lot of crazy slabs found since then, just none the same as the Right.”

On that first day at the Right, back in 2007, Russell Ord and crew were also out making history at a nearby slab called Backyards.

etc etc etc

Vicreg's picture
Vicreg's picture
Vicreg commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 12:44pm

2007?

Isn’t there a movie from the 90s called Sons of Fun where they surf the Right?

*i correct myself that was the box....

stoner's picture
stoner's picture
stoner commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 8:25pm

I’m no boog but I’m pretty sure Chad Jackson, Brad Hughes and Whitey are from Perth and Virtue is from Geraldton.

boogiefever's picture
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boogiefever commented Wednesday, 1 Jul 2020 at 10:10pm

True dat.... All WA boogers.

Skeet's picture
Skeet's picture
Skeet commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 8:19pm

Well done Shan. Amazing human and always giving and helping other people.

Faunt Leroy's picture
Faunt Leroy's picture
Faunt Leroy commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 8:58pm

Chad jackson and Sean Virtue are east coasters?

mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207 commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 9:03pm

Think the underground boogers were earlier Stu, perhaps first guys to tow and film themselves might be more on point with east coaster claims

pazcoop's picture
pazcoop's picture
pazcoop commented Friday, 26 Jun 2020 at 9:17pm

Great writeup....
Seems to be a similar change in attitudes to backcountry skiing/boarding in Aus...
5-10 years ago you'd almost never see anyone with beacon/probe/shovel... now a lot of folks have them. And with avy trainings and mountain sports collective there's no excuse not to make informed decisions.
Bad things might still happen. But at least if you're prepared you'll be able to sleep at night knowing you did everything you could.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 9:23am

Good stuff, Stu.

Was going to do a breath-hold/big wave awareness course earlier this year, but Covid put a stop to that.

That anyone would even contemplate paddling the Right is beyond my comprehension. That Tim B photo is insane.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Sunday, 28 Jun 2020 at 7:35pm

Whenever Nam Baldwin is in town I do his breath hold course and I'll highly recommend it, IB. Each time I've done it I've been blown away by my capacity to stay under, even when not totally fit. It's mainly physical prep but there's lots of theory to apply afterwards.

I recently had a situation where I nosedived and winded myself, utterly gassed, before the wipeout even began. Fortunately it wasn't a huge day, but still I had to recall what I'd learnt at Nam's course and stay calm through the hold down.

Another thing...Nam talk about the bodies capacity to cope far beyond our comfort zone, and I imagine that's exactly how old mate who went down for five survived.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 6:41am

Thanks, Stu. I'll definitely make an effort to do one.

A local beach break in a cove has a big outside peak that gets surprisingly good and big in onshore gales. Looks awful from shore, and not many (if any) can see the point of it (thank you very much).

6 months or so ago, I had two bonafide two-wave hold-downs there in one session. Couldn't bloody believe it! I was pinned to the bottom, which made it feel much less scary and confusing, and I managed to stay calm and wait it out.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 9:42am

Fucken hell IB
How long you under for? Did you hear and feel the second wave go over?

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 10:49am

A could feel it, GF. Pinned for a while, then it let go briefly before nr 2 hit.

It sounds a bit worse than it was. Relatively short period swell, so I wasn't down for ages, and managed to not panic. It was dark as anything, though, with sand and shit swirling around, but I could push off the bottom afterwards.

wildenstein8's picture
wildenstein8's picture
wildenstein8 commented Tuesday, 30 Jun 2020 at 10:29am

Hey mate, I did Nam Baldwins course a few years ago and credit it with saving my life. In 2018 I was surfing huge Uluwatu Outside Corner and had already been out for over 4 hours when I was looking to go in.

A big set hit at temples and faint screams from the cliff could be heard. Everyone paddled hard and I did too, but it was probably the worst thing I could've done as I was worn out by the time I got a good look at it and I was well inside about to go under the biggest wave I'd ever seen.

I took an absolute flogging, but if I hadn't been to Nam's course and known that I could hold my breath for over 90s seconds I would've panicked. I'm not good at theory, cant remember all those apnea numbers, but the cold hard fact was I'd held my breath for nearly two minutes with Nam, after doing a hard swim and pummeling to recreate getting caught inside, so I knew if I got my head in the right place I could do it again. And I did. Three times before I hit shallow water.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Tuesday, 30 Jun 2020 at 11:47am

Good bloody effort!

(Did you get some bombs?)

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 6:53am

+1 for Nam's courses.

Done it twice, need to book in again to remind myself of everything I tend to forget just before the moment of impact. 

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 11:14am

..every now and then you remind me that you're an excellent writer Stu...such great context for the quality research... it seems crazy that "15th March 2011" is a breakout year? It's like yesterday, if you think about the 30+ year time period of Waimea's foothold as the mecca of big-wave surfing.

BTW I applaud all of these relatively young guys, their approach to safety and mateship. If one side-benefit is less ego's present in the line-up's around the world
, I'd call that progress.

aussieguy's picture
aussieguy's picture
aussieguy commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 11:33am

I signed up yesterday for a CPR resuscitation course. I'm not a big wave surfer but you don't need big waves for things to go wrong. Last weekend at my local I saw one surfer get pitched from the wave lip directly on top of another surfer pulling a bottom turn below him. Total mayhem. I kept an eye out to make sure both came up.

Great article.

Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 12:24pm

Great article & great advice. Has anyone got stats on what percentage of surfer- drownings involve Head Trauma?

The MIDdleman.'s picture
The MIDdleman.'s picture
The MIDdleman. commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 12:27pm

If you think youre one of the people that runs towards danger when people are in need do yourself a favour and be trained and empowered through it.

The "uselessness" is something parents speak most about when it's all gone wrong.

Also thanks for being one of those whom can be turned to.
From me.

Signature.

Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy's picture
Jamyardy commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 2:14pm

Good write up Stu.
Band of Brothers .. how is it when they bring Aaron Gold back to life after being knocked out from a wipeout at big Cloudbreak. The few guys working on him that knew what they were doing saved his life.

redclement.'s picture
redclement.'s picture
redclement. commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 3:19pm

I won't be surfing it, not without my ego.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 3:49pm

Have watched from the safety of the shore those mad boogers paddling it. You can't comprehend how exposed to the deep black ocean they are bobbing around out there, a loooong way out...let alone the wave..it's beyond below sealevel. Seeing these guys paddling in and dropping in, freefalling with their legs extended straight up above their heads on 10 foot plus bombs..hoping to reconnect in time and get some kind of rail in before the inevitable guillotine of the sledge hammer lip...insanity!! Hat's off gents and also the ladies that step into this aquatic lions den. Full respect and makes perfect sense to create a contingency plan for when shit hits the fan out there because no one can help them except each other out there.

Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 4:05pm

Always thought it was Chris White and those Tension boys from Perth that were the first.
Crazy tale on Whitey’s podcast from Ryan Hardy on a mission to paddle the joint, after seeing photos and figuring out its location, headed down solo and paddled through the 10 foot closed out beachy in the darkness. Gets out to the reef as it becomes light and sees Whitey and another mate rock up on a ski to each others surprise!

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 4:11pm

Up the Grinners!! @grinreapers Great homegrown WA podcast.

Brent.cbell's picture
Brent.cbell's picture
Brent.cbell commented Sunday, 28 Jun 2020 at 6:58am

Respect where respect should be due.

This is the real crew that discovered the right
https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.redbull.com/au-en/history-of-the-rig...

Trentslatterphoto's picture
Trentslatterphoto's picture
Trentslatterphoto commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 5:08pm

must be 100% correct if redbull made an article out of quoting one persons view on history.

spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes commented Sunday, 28 Jun 2020 at 11:37am

Stu this whole issue of water safety is the proverbial elephant in the room. Being a bit of a data fan I think it's well past the time for a properly built, scalable database of surf accidents containing all relevant issues and conditions pertinent. I'm sure if the rules were simple there would be an avalanche of voluntary entries. On December 30 2019 I suffered an accidental injury in 4ft surf that nearly cost me an eye, reduced my vision and required major facial reconstruction. The impact is still profound six months on. A database won't help me but perhaps in future might cough up that all-important risk factor quantum. It could inform and perhaps help prepare surfers, emergency care workers and beachgoers how to avoid injury, reduce risk to self and others as well as provide historical data to inform coastal and medical decision making. I don't want to see surf police but in our increasingly crowded waters some solid guidance might help. There were four people out at my local including myself the day I got hurt on a low risk day. Shit happens though. Data describing all the circumstances might have pointed to the reasons why.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 9:05am

Hey Spiggy, I was a bit dumbfounded by how hard it was to find statistics on surfer drownings. Even the categories changed from year to year: one year surfer deaths fell under "watercraft" (using an icon of a person in a kayak), and another it would be "surfer drownings", yet their description of a surfer was far more broad than you or I would describe it.

Trying to get good data from that would be a waste of time.

Best of luck with your recovery.

redclement.'s picture
redclement.'s picture
redclement. commented Sunday, 28 Jun 2020 at 12:01pm

I have studied those ten foot close out beachies. You wouldn't think anyone would try or survive them. I am certainly in awe of the solo big wave riders. A friend and I paddled out to what looked like a friendly peeler from the shore. It became a heaving ten foot barreling beast! And a bloke was out there on his own pulling in and making these barrels! I stayed in the channel and watched. He probably climbs Karri trees and crawls through the caves when it's flat.

Remigogo's picture
Remigogo's picture
Remigogo commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 4:30am

Redclement you have me wondering if it was the same bloke I had seen paddle out late arvo on another day, cold, overcast, and unforecasted big!

He dodged the not quite rights for 3 hours until catching only the one right wave back in to end his session. 3x overhead, barrelled start to finish.

Some people are quietly, truly amazing.

flow's picture
flow's picture
flow commented Sunday, 28 Jun 2020 at 3:01pm

Spiggy. In hindsight would you have done anything different on that day? Or is there a lesson you see and presumably others would benefit from?

spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 2:41pm

Many lessons learned Flow. 1) Never underestimate the ability a young surfer to plough through 15m of collapsed section to emerge upright at full speed at the end of it; 2) Even at your local where you know every barnacle the unexpected can happen; 3) If your lifeguard starts early to get a few waves and suss the break, clap your hands; 4) Choppers with warm engines and subsequent speedy medivacs save lives; 5) Even if rehab exercises are exhausting, do more.
I've got to say the young fella who crashed into me was extremely contrite and doesn't deserve any blame, he was just going for it, albeit unsighted. But the biggest lesson of all is his: Before you take off on your first wave, you must do a 360 degree check of where everyone is, where the hard objects are, where the waves are going to take you and most of all, if its your first time at this break, take a few minutes to take it all in and assess the risks. I've done that for over 50 years and never had a really serious surf injury, until now.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 5:11pm

Spiggy I’m still struggling to understand how having data could explain why your accident happened? And how it could help anyone in the future?

Wasn’t it just an unfortunate accident?
Shit happens sometimes.
I think we over-analyse everything now days.
I don’t mean any of that disrespectfully either.

spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes commented Wednesday, 1 Jul 2020 at 3:13pm

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.

So said Clifford Stoll. I agree with you Goofy however data throws up questions as well as explanations. I have asked myself many times, why did this happen? Small day, uncrowded, low risk, safe-ish positioning ... then other things come to mind: Early low sun, poor view of line up paddling out to it, surfer in whitewater unsighted ... then there are the assumptions. But if there's a giant swell, closed beaches, expert-standard waves, superfit experienced riders only warnings, forecasts, tides, other condition assessments, then that data can provide information and so on up the chain. Data doesn't yield answers but crunching it may. Point is, Stu couldn't get any hard info on surf accidents/injuries because there is no such data properly analysed in public medical statistics. It's up to us to do it.

JackStance's picture
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JackStance commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 11:45am

Excellent. Well done all - SW and contributors !

Massively important article.

Breath. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

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sangsta commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 3:22pm

When I showed that photo of Shane Ackerman, about to take a bashing, to a none surfing colleague a few months back, the feedback was, "that doesn't look that bad, surely he could have just dived under the wave". I walked away thinking what a different perspective a land lubber has and how each time I see that photo, I feel scared to the core.
Great topic and coverage Stu. Anything more than 6 foot is too big for me but I am now encouraged to go and refresh my Bronze medallion as a minimum.
Can't wait to be scared senseless by Tim Bonython's ASMF video.

flow's picture
flow's picture
flow commented Monday, 29 Jun 2020 at 4:02pm

Yes. I can relate to point 1 Spiggy. Although I haven't been a victim of such a scenario.

batman's picture
batman's picture
batman commented Tuesday, 30 Jun 2020 at 10:14am

Thanks Stu for the informative article. A few years back I went bodyboarding at Rebounds (TAS) on a clean but solid 5ft and rapidly climbing swell day. Cohen Thomas and I were paddling back out after our last waves - a little bit down the beach where dredging end sections were closing out on a shallow bank. Out of nowhere a freak set loomed in front of us and we missed getting under it by a few metres and got absolutely flogged. I wasn't fit and the first rag-doll hold-down of about 30 seconds depleted my oxygen supply significantly - I managed to get to the surface for half a breath before the next one and then into the washing machine I went again - and so on for a couple more until I got pushed in. By the time I made it up onto the shore I recall I could barely stand and was nearly blue. Despite my 35+ years experience, I certainly could have used one of these courses. Probably lucky not to have drowned.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Tuesday, 30 Jun 2020 at 11:36am

This whole article and excellent comments by the crew kinda freaks me out. I haven't done a first aid course in years. Last one was St. Johns and maybe bronze medallion way before that. Big wave days at my age are few and far between these days and I've been relatively lucky over my 40+ years surfing- few stitches, MCL and busted up my shoulder once, but overall pretty lucky (and I've taken some floggings).

Hats off to the guys that charge these monsters and even more respect to those that make the necessary preparations, keep their ego's in check and can potentially save anothers life if shit goes pear-shaped.

Great writing too.

1173

Roystein's picture
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Roystein commented Tuesday, 30 Jun 2020 at 7:26pm

Great article and Stu I spent many years trawling surfing magazines and your writing is up there with the best surf journalism I have come across. Keep it coming and well done.

batfink's picture
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batfink commented Wednesday, 1 Jul 2020 at 9:28am

Ok. First aid course and a nam Baldwin breathing course. On my list of things to do, now I have time.

Not planning any big wave adventures, just want to surf more with safety, and the confidence that comes with it.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Wednesday, 1 Jul 2020 at 9:28am

Ok. First aid course and a nam Baldwin breathing course. On my list of things to do, now I have time.

Not planning any big wave adventures, just want to surf more with safety, and the confidence that comes with it.

Tristan Goose's picture
Tristan Goose's picture
Tristan Goose commented Wednesday, 1 Jul 2020 at 1:36pm

Any heavy water courses on the east coast? North nsw to seqld?