The Shipsterns Rescue Ski
Earlier this year, young Harry Hollmer-Cross, who's the son of James, nephew of Tyler, had a bad wipeout at Shipsterns Bluff.
For Harry, the wipeout resulted in a stint in hospital and a slow recovery, yet the wipeout also had an effect on the crew who regularly surf Shippies. There's been a feeling that, for all the boundaries that have been pushed over the years, they've been riding their luck, which is an unsettling feeling for the older crew passing the baton to younger surfers.
Thus Harry's wipeout solidified a few stray thoughts, got a few people - let's call them the Shippie's Elders for convenience sake - to sit down and nut out some way to improve safety.
The following conversation is with Richie Hassett, father of Noah, the blonde teenage phenom you may have seen footage of at Shippies or the SA desert, though at every instance, Richie was quick to defer to group decisions for the initiative.
Swellnet: I heard you guys are getting proactive with safety down there?
Richie Hassett: Yeah. You could probably say it's in response to what happened to Harry down here back in March.
Yeah. I'd been talking with Marti Paradisis before that about safety stuff. But Marti's still out there while I'm just a conscious parent. I stood there and watched what happened to Harry, and I just thought, "What if that was my son?"
Imagine having to rely on someone else to save your son's life? I can't surf the place and I'm not down there a helluva lot. I just happened to be there that day.
So like I said, we'd spoken about things, but they'd never really come to fruition. They're busy men and they have their lives and their families, and they just needed someone to galvanise it and go out and do a bit of work behind the scenes. Unfortunately, it took the accident of Harry for a light to go off in everyone's head. Which is a shame, but there's a silver lining in that, and that's what we've wound up with.
At this point it's a rescue ski fitted with a defib, a full trauma kit and pain relief, the green whistles. Everything you need. The ski's available to all that want to have access to take it down there, whether there's two guys going down there or whether there's twenty guys going down there. The ski's available 365 days of the year.
Available to anyone..?
No, I should qualify that, Stu. There's about half a dozen people that I trust to take it down and look after it, do the right thing. So we've got a group chat amongst the crew and between us, we work out who's grabbing the ski and taking it down. That's the reality, but it is available 99% of the time.
So this'll mean there's less need to rely on the authorities should something happen again?
Well, that's part of it, but we've also been working closely with the Westpac chopper rescue team and are looking to do some mock rescues in the next swell or two. It's mainly about how they can retrieve people out of the water more than anything, but we're starting to work closer with them [the Westpac Chopper rescue team].
Just after Harry's incident, a guy called Pierre Caley came and statyed with us for a month. He's a surfer at Nazare and part of their rescue team. He gave us really good advice.
Funny you say that, because while you were explaining it I flashed on the co-ordinated ski response they have during big days at Nazare.
Yep, he was probably the main guy that put the idea in my head of a rescue ski.
Nazare has got the government to pay for their ski teams. Who funded this ski?
Well, it costs money and we don't have government support. I went and found someone to buy us one and we've got to pay him back. That's the reality of it. Then the guys all chipped in, buying over $2,000 of first aid equipment to fit the ski out. Some individuals and some companies, such as Jet Tech, Xtreme Marine Services, Polished Concrete Tasmania - that's Zeb Critchlow's company.
Yeah, he fucking whacked in a heap of money.
And then there's Red Herring Surf and Surfing Tas too, which may lead to more developments later.
Righto. Now, I've seen your Instagram post and you're putting the word out to all surfers, meaning not just locals but visiting surfers who come down. Is there any sort of limits on who you'll rescue?
It's a tricky one. This initiative doesn't mean that any Tom, Dick or Harry can contribute to the ski, then come down and expect to get a shot for Instagram. This place is brutal and years of big wave experience needs to be logged beforehand, otherwise it won't matter how many rescue skis are patrolling the lineup.
Stupidity and lack of responsibility wont be tolerated.
Yet if someone's in trouble, those guys are going to go do the best they possibly can to help someone out. I think it comes down to a conscious decision by the people that paddle out to these spots to know...to have in the back of their mind that things can go wrong down there pretty quickly. The first step before anything else is personal safety, then lots of training, the rescue ski is a last ditch option.
So if someone's done their BWRAG training, spent time in heavy water, and knows how to handle themself, how can they contribute to the ski?
First up, this is not a forced tax. Yet we'd like to think the calibre of person that wants to come and surf Shippies also understands the severity the wave. We think it's more a conscious decision by them to chip in and be part of the initiative.
(Editor's Note: See postscript for payment and bank details)
Also, the vibe of the joint's not going to change. There'll still be beers in the channel from time to time. That's the reality, it's dangerous but its fun - we're just making sure there's a higher level of safety awareness. That's it really.
What's the response been like so far, Richie?
Yeah, it's been good. I think most people that've come down have chipped in. We'd like to think that hundred percent of people are going to chip in, but the reality is that's not the case with anything you do in life.
At this point, it's new and we're just getting awareness out there.
Good luck with it, mate.
PS: If you meet the above criteria and want to surf Shippies, then you can have some peace of mind by chipping in to the initiative.
The details are as follows:
Account Name: STAS Rescue JetSki
Account number: 46-013-9855