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Stay safe at the beach these school holidays

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

With school holidays coming up, its important that families prepare their coastal trip in advance, although some beaches may be patrolled, always be aware of potential dangers. Here is a story that should encourage us to take care on the beach

Right Place Right Time – Two young lives saved

By Craig Riddington

22 April 2019 Crescent Head (Killick) Beach

Its mid-afternoon in Crescent Head, the north easterly onshore wind has arrived with some cloud cover, seeing most beach goers calling it a day. We decide to do head over to the beach from the campground across the creek to do some body surfing. I am joined my brother Scott, sons Nate and Willem, and a couple of Nate's friends - all competent surf swimmers.

Just north of the flags we find a spot to catch body waves to the beach. The flags are only 50m from the surf club however the patrolling surf club members are sitting under a tent outside the surf club with difficult access across the rock's and creek to the flags.

Whilst body surfing, a strong south to north sweep is dragging us down the beach toward a deeper area leading into a fairly wide rip heading north. This is a common characteristic of the beach due to the outflow of the Killick Creek at the south corner of the beach. From the shallow water on the shoreline – my wife Rebecca and seven year old daughter Neve are also watching on.

We body surf our first wave and Willem - just 11 years old, although current Manly Warringah Branch Surf Ironman Champion, is unable to hold the wave to the shallow shoreline and is dragged into the deeper water. I know he's OK, given his strength in the surf and the fact he was not quite in the rip, however I keep an eye on him and Rebecca moves over toward him as we head back out. Desperate to get back into the body surfing contest he struggles against the sweep on the sandbank and finally joins us for another wave.

We catch two more waves, however on the third wave - Scott misses the wave but catches a smaller one drifting north into the deeper water. At this point I recognize two small children, one much smaller than the other just north of the swimming flags and drifting across the shallow sandbank into the deeper water toward the rip, I assume they are about six and eight years old, I start moving toward them.

Oblivious to their drift down the beach they continue to have fun in the shallows.

At this point whilst observing the boys movement - I start looking for a parent in the water south towards the flags, and then look onto the beach, however there doesn’t seem to be any eyes on the kids. At this point Scott notices them quickly falling into deeper water then into the rip. The boys clearly can’t swim, so I am also racing over to them. The smaller boy climbs on top of the bigger boy and then they both go under with little chance of resurfacing for air, quickly getting dragged into the current and deeper water.

Within seconds Scott pulls them up and I am there to assist. We are able to hold them up and carry them through the deeper water to the beach knowing that the rip was heading diagonally across then out, this was the safest and quickest way to get them back to the beach.

Two young lives have just been saved, if we weren't there surely the boys would have downed, disappeared below the surface - unnoticed. We ask the boys how old they are, “eight” comes the reply. Where are your parents? “Up there”, they point to the bridge crossing the creek behind the surf club. The boys don’t seem too fazed by the incident and seem to be oblivious to what has happened and reluctant to head back to a parent.

We usher them toward the bridge and watch until they cross the other side. Scott and I look at each other in disbelief, Scott – a surf and pool lifeguard for over 35 years declares that they were gone for all money. Me a professional surf educator for over 20 years, agreed.

We decided to front the surf club patrol, we approach the three men and I ask if they were aware that we had just rescued 2 kids up the beach. One of the patrol members points toward the flags, “were they swimming in the flags” he replies? “We've been monitoring the flags from up here, but didn’t see anything”. I ask why they are not patrolling down the beach where the dangers lie, and how they would not have rescued the kids in time, even if they had spotted them. I advise the lifesavers that they would have had the death of two young children on their hands had we not been there. Nothing more is said by the lifesavers so we walk off.

Heading back to the campsite we catch a glimpse of the two boys at the BBQ with an adult. We front the man and ask if he is related to the boys, he replies “yes, to one of them”. We ask if he was aware the boys were swept down the beach into a rip and were probably drowning? “No I wasn’t” he replied, they boys tell me you were harassing them and they ran away scared. Scott informed him of our credentials, and states “your boys were in serious trouble most likely drowning”.

The man then turns to the boys and asks if they were in trouble and the boys look at each other and then one replies “yes”.

That man queries – “but the lifesavers are on duty”. I reply “that doesn’t mean much” and tell the man to “never to take his eyes off the boys around water regardless of who is on patrol”. Without a thank you the man grabs the kids and starts walking toward the surf club, where we assume he was to front the lifesavers.

We walk away in dismay, however not surprised by the attitudes of both the parent and the lifesavers on patrol.

This is a common occurrence where lives are saved by proficient water men at our beaches. It is not a case of money or resources, the Surf Lifesaving club is brand new, it seems to have many members, a café where customers are queued up all day long, a bar that opens to the public, it is part of a busy town – especially over the Easter holidays.

This is about poor patrolling and lack of education. If the patrol was stationed in front of the danger zones, as opposed to observing only the safer area within the comfort of surf club surrounds, this incident would not have occurred. Imagine the fallout from such an incident had we not been there to rescue those two boys, how would the small coastal town deal with such tragedy and continue to thrive as such a popular destination.

I guess that's why, as trained waterman, it is never relaxing to be at the beach knowing that constant surveillance is required to ensure drownings do not occur, and knowing that until changes are made to patrolling strategies and surf education implemented to all Australians, nothing will change.

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