Study Finds Surfers Save Hundreds Of People From Drowning
For lifelong Inverloch surfer Max Wells, rescuing people from the water is a common occurrence, and a new study has proven that he's not alone.
Mr Wells has been surfing for forty years and had participated in rescues on "many occasions". He said he believed every long-term surfer would have either participated in or assisted in a rescue at some point.
"It's because the surfers are there at the beaches, at dawn, and they're still there at dusk and they come and go all day and they're there on thousands of kilometres of beach that aren’t patrolled by the lifesavers," he said.
The stand-up paddle board school owner recalled one experience in particular, when he rescued a family of four who had been pulled out into the ocean by a rip. Mr Wells was with his family watching the surf when he saw the mother and her three children get swept away.
"[My brother-in-law and I] just picked up our surfboards and we went straight out, we picked them up," he said. "The kids, they didn't even know how much danger they were in, but the mother was quite distraught.
"We just put them on our surfboards and paddled them across the the next sandbar and brought them back in."
Surfers key in prevention
According to a study by La Trobe University, hundreds of people in Victoria are saved from drowning each year by surfers. A team of researchers surveyed 550 surfers across the state over two years, in partnership with Surfing Victoria, and found surfers rescued more than 250 people from the water and administered first aid to more than 100 people.
La Trobe's Centre for Sport and Social Impact research fellow Kiera Staley said the results of the study had solidified what many people had already known.
"There have been stories for many years about surfers undertaking various rescues and providing advice and administering first aid at beaches and there was no evidence as to how often this actually occurs anywhere around the world," she said.
Sport Australia has estimated there are about 80,000 surfers in Victoria. Ms Staley said they had good knowledge of the water and its currents, and were well-equipped to rescue people.
"They have very good water knowledge and they literally have a life-saving device attached to them that is usually six feet long, so you can comfortably fit at least another person on that board in that instance," she said.
The research revealed surfers helped to prevent drownings by giving safety advice 2,500 times, which was particularly valuable at unpatrolled beaches.
"Often [in the car park], that's usually the place where surfers actually tend to capture [visitors] because people often aren't aware of the coastal location unless they are local," Ms Staley said.
Fifty-three people have died from drowning this summer in Australia, with nine of those deaths occurring in Victorian waters and more than half of them happening in coastal waterways.
Ms Staley said the high number of fatalities was likely because of people's inexperience around water during the pandemic. "People haven't necessarily had access to the swimming lessons that they [ordinarily] would have," she said.
"In the past three years we've also seen that a lot of inland holiday locations have been impacted by flooding, which means people are actually tending to move towards coastal areas, or maybe holiday in locations where they're unfamiliar with it and water bodies."
Surfing Victoria's marketing and communications manager Liam Robertson said surfers played a huge role in filling the gap when lifesavers were not present. "Lifesavers do an incredible job but unfortunately, they can't be there all day every day ... so surfers are able to fill those gaps and help create safer beaches all year round," he said.
Mr Robertson said the new research was very valuable in understanding more details about the rescues occurring and hoped it would convince more surfers to partake in the Surfers Rescue 24/7 program, teaching life saving skills to surfers.
According to the La Trobe University study, more than 3,500 surfers have participated in the program since its inception four years ago.
"It teaches surfers how to perform board rescues and CPR safely so that we don't have more fatalities, and it helps in creating safer beaches and safer communities," Mr Robertson said.
// NATASHA SCHAPOVA
© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
Last night having a body bash about 6pm at Redhead Beach and had to swim out and save a teenage girl in a rip.
Dragged and swam her back in to the shorey and passed her over to her bald, fat, rashie wearing Dad that just said "Cheers" and turned on his heel with his daughter.
It was worth the effort just for the deposit into the Karma Bank.
Rescued one lady twice because she hopped back in the same rip while I was rescuing her husband. Rescued a couple of dogs that have followed surfers out in rips.
And Russian tourists who've done a couple of lessons at Canggu and are now ready for the big time at double overhead G-land.
I think those acts are enough to offset me being an atheist and get me into heaven.
Manly has some crazy bank/gutter setups right now that turn into rivers on certain parts of the tide. Great for surfing but so dangerous for the general public. Have rescued a few over the summer.
The amount of rescues we surfers do because we're already out there would outweigh those by the authorities IMO.
Spent many years in Manly….straight out front of the Manly Pacific after 6pm with an outgoing tide was always a hot spot for tourists out for an evening swim. All of us have rescued many swimmers & novice board riders & an old mate Larry would have rescued into the hundreds just by being at the bench at Nth Steyne after clubbie hours - I even saved a girl in the 70s to the left hand of the Nth Steyne pipe while a clubbie carnival was in full swing to the right !!! Thousands owe their lives to those “scum of the earth “ surfers ! Just saying…..
Haven't rescued anyone but won a voucher to the wave pool once if that's incentive for anyone to sign up to the survey
Craig said "The amount of rescues we surfers do because we're already out there would outweigh those by the authorities IMO"
Absolutely and because most surfers are low key and don't expect to be called a hero for doing something which is not a big deal for most of them in conditions they are comfortable with
Versus a bunch of over funded over hyped "heroes" that are not a patch on your lifeguards skill and ability who mostly dont have the ocean awareness that any long time surfer does. And spend more time and money on training for competitions than training for actual surf rescues....
As surfers, we enter the ocean for the love of surfing. We charge and choose to place ourselves in harm's way. Others enter the ocean for different reasons, for recreational reasons, because it's summer and it's hot, because the beaches are beautiful, because it's fun for the family...
Surf Lifesaving Australia provides safe environments for recreational beach goers. They advise people to swim between the flags, but still they don't. They swim where we surf, and they get into trouble, and we rescue them because it is the right thing to do.
If SLSA didn't operate the flags, more people would drown, more people would swim where we surf, more pressure would come onto us as surfers.
I am a surfer, a surf lifesaver, and a professional lifeguard. So please, before you rag lifesavers and lifeguards, appreciate that we take our responsibility to protect the public seriously. And we all surf too.
mate absolutely!!!! I get annoyed as well!
Mate you are wrong. I’ve surfed for 45 years and have been a clubbie for the last 6. I started when my kids started nippers. Kids start training to be life savers as green caps at the age of 8 and by the time they are 15 they are veterans of Ocean swims and paddle races on boards with no leg ropes and countless ours of training in the Ocean. There is a big difference in ocean confidence between young surfers who have done nippers and those that haven’t. I worry that some of the kids who haven’t trained and done ocean swims will get into trouble when they break their leg ropes. The other thing is that every year life savers undergo CPR and first aid training as well as an ocean swim as part of the required proficiency so they can patrol. I’ve been involved in two rescues as as surfer but many more as a clubby. Most of the older clubbies do ocean swims to keep fit and most surfers never have
Was surfing a b or c grade left here a while ago with a right on the other side of a channel, it was max 1.5 foot swell every set then flat for like 20-30 minutes. Im not sure if i was on my fish or bodyboard but this girl jumped off the rocky outcrop with a bikini then within seconds some non stop 4-6 foot bombs cleaned us all up and within seconds we were all swept to the right and too deep to go right.The bikini girl was struggling and constantly swimming full pace to try to get back to the narrow beach.
There is a last chance bay to the north but rocks are super sharp and if riding a pe/pu fiberglass board you will likely ding it up jumping over waves on the sharp rocks and barnacles and oyster shells trying to find your way in.I did that way once and never again.
Anyway the girls trying to grab onto my board but this was when i was around 90kg and riding a 5'11 fish, or was it bodyboard? anyway luckily a guy paddled out with a long board very quickly and she jumped on his back and they went straight into proper exit beach safely.
This coastline and ocean in mid coast to NW is very very dangerous, never seen anything else like it.Maybe some days people even paddle into the rivermouth 5 kms away.not sure.
In retrospect the smartest thing to have done without the guy on a longboard there, would have been to paddle in get stuck inside deliberately and half duckdive the constant barrage of sets without a break but deliberately eat shit to work our way in.
A spot down the other end has at least 1 rescue every Summer, the rip is in the same spot and never really disappears just gets stronger with more swell. Flagged beach 50m away yet the blowins still manage to require rescuing every year.
"***** rip claimed another one" gets mentioned at least once every Summer (non-fatal kind).
Many years ago I saved a teenage girl who was in complete panic mode and swallowing water . Got her on to my board and when I got to shore the clubbies grabbed her and put her on a stretcher and as they carried her up the beach the crowd that had gathered erupted into applause and heaped praise on the brave clubbies. As the crowd followed the clubbies up the beach leaving me alone in ankle deep water the Moving Pictures song "What about me" came into my head .
That’s funny MMR. Sounds just like what I used to do at work. Do all the hard yards so the bosses could take my work into their meetings.
I’m giving you a little applause here.
Had a rescue of two kids in heaving 4ft waves I relayed here once. It was 7pm and the flags had just gone down, was walking in with my son when we noticed mum intently staring out to sea. Realised we had a rescue, my son was awesome, "Dad what do you want me to do?" and I said to get the girl who was in trouble, and then go over to the sandbar and catch a wave in, and he did this quickly, got there just in time, at this point I realised he'd grown into a good man... He was having a surf on his Zap and this was really lucky as it has heaps of float. I helped her brother in and we reunited the kids with mum, the girl stood under mum's towel, transfixed looking out into the water. A good day, but had we not seen the mum, we may not have looked back and seen the kids.
Do the online training course. Takes 1.5hours but great to brush up on your lifesaving skills.
I noticed a mini mal washed up on the beach after a surf one day, snapped leg rope...
I thought I'd do the owner a favour and drag it up the beach out of the shorey so it didn't wash away.
Then I noticed the owner out there getting flogged about 50 metres away, it was obvious he couldn't swim and was going under.
Paddled out and and got him on his board and I swam back in, he was in trouble by the time I got there
He walked past me in the carpark later on and awkwardly said thanks, looked shocked.
I saved up pocket money to buy my first board when I was a kid. Then when I finally bought one my old man took it off me and sent me to swimming training 3 nights a week.
I made the front page of the Sunshine Coast Daily for assaulting a clubbie a few years ago.
Noosa main beach in front of the second tower (to the North), surfing 3' closeouts on a minimal when I noticed a swimmer out the back of the rip waving his arms. His mate had gone under. We pulled him up and got him on the board where he coughed and spluttered, threw up and breathed. On the tower were two young clubbies chairs on two legs arms crossed having a chinwag. I waved two arms crossed that I needed some help... Nothing. One of them lifts the binoculars to check out some sunbakers and passes them to his mate. I whistle, two fingers, loud and a few people on the beach spot me and make their way to the shoreline. The one who could swim bailed on the first wave and made it in a couple of guys helped me get the other one to the shore where by now someone had called 000. He was conscious but weak and spoke no English. Another bloke said he was a paramedic and started ABCDE.
Adrenaline pumping I looked to the tower. Both still there, both still feet on the railings chairs on back legs. I made my way up the stairs and shouted at them. Probably told them they were fuckwits, I honestly don't remember. I do remember telling them I'd be heading up to the Surf Club to report what happened and went to leave. One of them muttered "yeah fuck-off" loud enough for me to hear. I pushed him against the wall, launched into a tirade, let him go and left the tower.
By the time I got to the club the duty lifeguard had already heard from the tower and informed me he'd called the police for assault. I left. The swimmer had been taken away for ob's but I was told he looked okay. His friend had gone with him but left one of the helpers his number to say thank you to me.
Next day there was a small pg3 piece about a clubbie being assaulted at Noosa, no real context so I mailed the paper and gave them my sequence of events. Next day, front page. Police contacted the paper and asked for my details which, to their credit, they didn't give but they did let me know. I voluntarily attended Noosa police station and was formally interviewed. The police seemed sympathetic but obviously had to follow protocol.
The clubbie never turned up for his interview and a month later I was told by the police they'd dropped it.
Wow, what a story, glad that ended all good for you in the end. I would have been mighty pissed as well.
Great stories here. There's not a lot of swim rescues happening in Tas, but I've definitely helped a few new surfers out of situations far beyond them. Groms stuck out in surf that has jacked up considerably and they don't know what to do. A Euro dude who somehow paddled out at Outside Corner on 6'0 Fish and simply said "please tell me what to do - help me". I think surfers just become so comfortable in the ocean and particularly in navigating and moving through the most dynamic parts of it, that it's hard to get back into the mindset of cluelessly disappearing into a one foot wave and drowning in a rip.
Local surf knowledge & experience can predict possible hazards and prevent drowning.
Surfers, pro life guards & surf clubs that regularly have bigger waves, strong rips & crowds (eg. Hawaii, Vico surf coast?, Bondi,?) may do more rescues?.... than some wave protected 'bays' that only get an occasional large swells from cyclones,big storms, etc.
Would be good to see the rescue statistics.
After too many deaths, PFDs are required for all rock fishermen & boaties in NSW.... maybe they will become smaller & fashionable one day.
I stuffed up my knee about 10 years ago and had been out of the water for about 6 months when I was down south with the family over the holidays. I took everyone to one of the beachies in the area-it was 3 ft plus on the outer bank with smaller runners on the inside so took the kids for a bash. After pushing everyone around they tired and I thought I’m gonna have a crack. I took the soft top out and to my elation caught a few and realised I could surf again! I noticed a couple down the beach getting into the water in the middle of the crescent shaped beach where there was a strong rip-it wasn’t that big but there was a lot of water moving around. After a wave I was sitting and noticed them getting sucked out and next you know there was yelling and panic so I yelled to them to swim towards me (out of the rip). I’ll never forget the look on the girl’s face as I paddled over-it looked like her eyes were going to pop out. When I got to them I had to choose who to throw the board to and chose the girl who immediately grabbed on, without a board who knows we both might have been sucked under. Luckily a wave came and washed her boyfriend in too. After I got them to the beach I paddled back out to restore and didn’t really think much about it till I got to the car park. Apparently the couple were super grateful and had asked for my address. A few weeks later I received a letter with a super cool shell creation with thanks for saving my life and an invitation to visit at a small French castle. I’ve got a niece In France but still haven’t taken up the offer-if only I could find the letter!
Have helped 4 people at Jan Juc over the years. All were of Indian descent and caught in Rips.
Safety in numbers.
Salute to those here & along our waterways dedicating their lives to saving ours!
Most rescues will always occur when & where authorities gather most in a risk situation.
Ironically the Lifeguard tribute event The Eddie is renowned for ramping risk & mass rescues.
Still a rare few think the main game is surfing the waves as higher risk real action is on the shoreline.
Govt sacrifices double it's replacement population to the Big Kahuna...Sounds scary huh! (Sadly True!)
2023 The Eddie (Just yer Typical day in the life of a Lifeguard at #1 Life Guard Surf Comp)
*Govt mandate 50,000 to be sacrificed to The Big Kahuna (Yes! Massive promotion!)
*10,500 preventative warnings
*Waves crash thru houses
*Baby washed under a House > Rescued...How?
*Wave pushes concrete barrier to crush woman
*Wahine knocked unconscious after thrown from jet ski.
*Surfer suffers broken ribs
*Officials ask crew to get down from Walls & Rooftops
*Grom knocked unconscious after falling from tree.
No news to speak of at pretty ordinary Lifeguard Rescue Event.
2016 ~ There were 12,090 preventative warnings + 103 rescues.
Hawaii's annual population growth is (6,000) or about half of The Eddie's preventative warnings
Without Lifeguards...This Lifeguard Surf comp would kill off the Hawaiian population @ twice the rate.
Let's put things into perspective...we are all the same saltwater people...we all cry salty tears.
1,000's of years the populace is drawn to rivers & line headlands to see & surf large waves
Some order sacrifice, others sacrifice themselves, others will rescue them and others rescue rescuers.
Oz Xmas Beetle bodybash spawned Surf resorts sprouting beach flags at highest risk beaches.
Surf clubs are built in highest risk surf locations > smashed by biggest waves with largest erosion.
Oz skeg saying : "Surf is always better in the Flags!"
Think about it?
Govt would be crucified for sport rorting a cool million for surf club without surf...does happen.
Logic dictates that most rescues occur where largest volume of beachgoers face highest risk.
Very rare to see Clubbies set up far from Clubhouse...Resources / Beach access to assist is the key!
Aka : Swarm of Xmas Beetles (Bodybashers) All piled up between the Beach Flags.
But also most prevention & warnings are given to counter this naturally ramped risk.
Again...We the people hunt these big waves down placing our rescuers at risk...it's wot we do best!
Our fav' surf break decides the location of each & next Clubhouse / Resort as ever before!
tbb has studied bodysurfers prior to beach flags & they crave big surf & venture far offshore to get it.
"Waves of Seafarers" tbb's work on Aboriginal Surf Rescues & Beach / River patrols precedes SLSA.
SEQ Surf cruises,safaris,resorts,reserves & patrols were in place long before Surf Boards & Surf Clubs.
Very few care to salute deeper meaningful surf history by tripping over surf side monuments.
Salute above rescuers...
Nipper tbb also volunteered for River rescue, surfed in Board comps & bodybashed all local lineups.
Without a doubt performed most rescues as a bodybasher in and around busy flags.
As said above...merely due to the numbers of swimmers getting in trouble...this is quite normal.
Yes! We're talking high hundreds...but mostly because a bodybasher is a default first responder.
Crew know it's a team effort relayed to nearest surf craft rider and or swimmer & Lifeguard/s.
Bodybashers salute & reward Lifeguards / Clubbies / Board Clubs with local emblems as such.
All beach crews as always...acting together is the best way to keep the peace & prevent tragedy.
Consider the many stranded novice Surfcraft riders that need rescuing in the flags.
Seen devastating carnage of wayward riders & boards...crew have seen & felt how ugly this is!
Easily 500x injuries inflicted upon tbb if must be known & loss of months > years on the bench.
Never assume a surfcraft will save a life as it can prove hazardous & fatal for too many...crew know this!
2010-2015 Gold Coast > 1,526 Surf board injuries needing hospitalisation.
319 Head Lacerations 82 neck 13 spine + Lower limbs 143 (Sprains) 125 (Lacerations) 69 (Fractures)
Bodysurfing is largest Oz summer sport...then the neck / spinal injuries double as shown above.
Beach Club bouncers blocking beach ramps/stairs...Lifeguards > Ambos up over the rockwall they go!
There is no competition of rescue notches as such...only a sea of more people presents a growing risk.
Every Patrol needs a toilet break, cool drink, a reward or salute...we can all assist with that...please!
tbb can example by leading from the front.
Yesterday tbb cleaned another's 7/11 coffee muck...& was rewarded a free Coffee (Cool!)
No! She wasn't supposed to & said it was her free cup break & still may get into trouble.
She sadly informed that her boss keeps knocking out her 4th Sunday Bonus by benching her!
Right! Quick trip & back to present the Lady with Gold Coast Floral Emblem Award for generosity.
Darn right it's excellent enough to share with her Boss...plenty of people deserving of more again!
Simple as that...made her day...we all matter & make a huge difference. if and when we care. Salute!
A couple of amusing near-rescues: Australia day long weekend, a bit of swell, a lot of wind blowing offshore. Inflatable doughnut man paddles out the back, way out the back, tries to paddle the thing in against the wind, then is flipped off his doughnut, which blows and bounces out of sight. It was literally flying 40m between bounces! Gone so quickly. Might have washed up in Cape Portland, Tas... Doughnut man is helped in, he swam it, but had surfers next to him.
4-5ft sets day and we are sitting in the lineup. Sven and Boje paddle past confidently on their soft boards (or was that the rip?) out to the furthest reefs while a little while later, Britta and Kerstin float past on their soft boards (it was the rip) and we can hear them say "I don't know if this is a good idea..."
We decided to stay out a little longer. They went further and further up the reefs... Then a 6ft wave rolled through, and washed them all in. Happy conclusion to surfing adventure.
I live in the EB of Sydney and I can’t believe that the lifeguards (in reality the council who employs them) pack up at 630pm.
There’s often still a heap of people swimming at that time and the conditions are often super tricky with whipped up low period wind swell and heaps of rips. I have pulled a bunch of people out of the water late because there is no one else around.
The council lifeguards are the pick of the bunch Joe. They’re good ones down at ‘bra, serious professionals and I always have a chat to ‘em.
As for 6.30 pm knock off - well they got finish sometime. Think they start at 8.00 so that’s a long day. What about those two and a half hours beforehand? Can’t cover everything.
They give the public 10 or 15 minutes notice of flags going down, which was 7.00 pm only a couple of weeks ago.
I’d rather nobody who isn’t highly competent got in the water after they leave, but that’s just me.
They are awesome and do a great job.
It’s actually a council issue - they should have 2 shifts in summer, morning and arvo for the lifeguards. . Duty of care to the people who are swimming in summer.
Have I dragged anybody from the sea - no. Have I talked someone out of a rip and onto a bank where they can wash in, a good number of times. Along with counselling someone about to swim in a rip, or the person at the car park with a serious wave and clearly FA experience. It's just common courtesy, which is under rated. BTW, no clubbie bashing, those people put in long hours and are not always thanked - respect.
"BTW, no clubbie bashing, those people put in long hours and are not always thanked - respect."
Yep agree to an extent, where i grew up, as a grom i lived 10 km from the beach and rode my bike to the beach or sometimes got a train..a local clubby let me leave my clothes, bike and bag in the club house medical room for about 2 years before i found more local friends 's houses to hang out at. or started staying at my nans. Clubby was a great bloke and gave many tips on how to surf bigger days at the beachies without dramas..which helped at a young age..then when getting into the island found out the friendly clubby was Chris Iredale a shark island charger and true waterman. Think he still is charging these days.Maybe not island as its so crowded now but cronulla point and other reefs.
the lifeguards in that suburb are very dedicated fit and helpful. One pro clubby and excellent surfer named Scotty Y, even jet-skied sometimes my older bruv who was more into out of control swells than myself, into island or phantoms- an outside mostly unsurfed bombie from island..Bruv would paddle out on 7 metre swells, a couple of times apparently 14 metre swells from reports (does east coast get 14 metre swells? indian ocean doesn't) and the nulla or wollongong clubbies never gave him requests to not go out as they knew, he knew what he was doing.My friends and a couple of pro friends would watch him navigate his way out and he always made it out and back in again safely.Even in 60 knot se or southerly winds.
In newcastle he moved there and lifeguards always had a drama with him going out to the outer bombies on out of control days.Pretty sure volunteer clubbies or someone would ring the rescue chopper and it would show up, he would yell out "im fine i will come in in a bit" or whatever.
Then he paddled out weighing over 110kg maybe 120kg and a news crew filmed him.He went ok the first time but then next time the clubbies said dont go out or else.
He paddled out anyway and a sweep from a bomb set swept him across the newcastle harbour entry and halfway up Stockton beach.He was going to walk and swim back but,
the volunteer clubby who told him no, said "want a lift on my jet ski?" Bruv said ok cool.
Clubby knob deliberately dropped him off on a beach inside the harbour in front of nine news film crew who all wrote him off for risking the clubbies lives bla bla bla..
Story went viral with online people saying he must have just got back in his komby from Nimbin bla bla bla..
His older ex pro friends all stuck up for him but im not sure he knew.."Stay on land kooks" one charger friend said..Pretty good bloke to be 2 or 3 vs 1000's of haters saying dont surf waves that big kind of thing...Not many Newcaslte spots handle over 6 maybe 8 foot and not many surfers bother as newcastle harbour is an ok fun novelty wave when its bigger with a decent tube and handling onshore winds..Some reason not sure why but big wave surfing isnt a thing there it seems.
Especially in the clubbies view.
Not sure if what my bruv did was cool or stupid or not but its understood where he grew up, not in Newcastle tho.
And bruv has absolutely rescued more people on big days than that knob clubby from what ive seen.
The one time I had to rescue an overseas couple who had been taken out in a rip on a small day at Johanna, it turned nasty when they didn’t have enough English to understand me as I tried to calm them and get them both hanging on sideways so all three of us were kicking onto the bank, but once a wave struck and the man let go and spent a whole second underwater he panicked and grabbed hold of me until we both got a rag dolled as his wife was pushed towards land thankfully dragging me out of hubby’s underwater hug by the ankle. Once she was on the sand I had to go back to look for hubby who was taking in water because he couldn’t stop crying, it was only by pure luck his feet found a shallow spot and he was able to get some breaths then clime onto my board where a wave took him to the beach. Thankfully there were people on the beach who dealt with the aftermath as I was having trouble keeping myself nice. Ten minutes after I drove off I saw an ambulance heading back to the beach but I never heard anything.
Great rescue technique here..