We Should All Be Better Equipped To Handle Life and Death Situations In The Surf

16 Jan 2018 6 Share

Photo: Ben Johnson

Photo: Ben Johnson

“Help, mate, this guy needs help!”

Would you know what to do if this happened in the surf next to you?

When I was 17 I was sitting in the surf, talking rubbish to my mate when we heard a guy yelling towards us and frantically motioning. Instinctively, we both assumed there was a shark and started to paddle, until we realised he was shouting that there was a man in the water who needed help.

We paddled over to find the man who yelled to us now off his board, struggling with a guy who was face down and partially submerged in the water. I slid off my board, unstrapped my leggie, tried to get my arms around the guy who was seemingly the heaviest person in the world in that instance. With his breath quickly exiting his body and no ability to rouse him, he offered no assistance and I remember spitting water out of my mouth, readjusting constantly, frantic and desperate. I still remember the feeling, the adrenaline surging through me and the uncertainty of what was wrong, what had happened, what do we do? We managed to semi drape him over a board, get him to shore, someone ran and called for an ambo and we attempted CPR, heads scrambling with everything we had ever learned about what to do and where to press and how and when to breathe. It shocked me how exhausted I was and how quickly that came to be. The ambulance took forever to come, but at the same time the entire episode was over in a blink.

The old man had suffered a heart attack. Well, he was an old man to my 17 year-old-self. Looking back, he was probably only in his 40s, just a guy catching a wave after work before he went home to his family for lasagne, crappy TV, bedtime stories, or any other ordinary everyday activity. The details of exactly what happened are blurry, but the breathless adrenaline of that day, what happened and the speed in which it hit, has stayed with me every since. 

Whether it’s bouncing off huge waves with bone shattering intensity, or getting freaked out when you’re held down so long you see stars, we’ve all had those moments in the surf where we have gone, even for a second, to that place. To that “holy shit that rattled me” place. But if those moments turned a little bit worse, either fro yourself, or a mate, or a stranger, would you know what to do?

The Ocean Warrior course was created with that feeling in mind. It teaches surfers – of all levels – key life-saving and rescue skills, including CPR and first aid from world renowned Hawaiian lifeguard Brian Keaulana, and also taps into the knowledge and insight of some of the best underwater athletes and watermen in the world, to teach you how to maximise your breath hold. A bunch of some of the best watermen have collaborated on the course, including creator Mark Visser, Shane Dorian and freedivers Ant Williams and William Trubridge. For a limited time, Coastalwatch users get a massive 60 per cent off – because we believe we should all know what to do when shit hits the fan and want surfers to be more confident and skilled in the water.

It was a long time ago that that man had the heart attack next to me, but what stuck with me was that weighty understanding that it was instantly my responsibility to help him. Because you don’t paddle away – you paddle towards. He was searching for the same swell, trading waves with me earlier, I barely even looked at his face and I never even knew his name, but when his heart decided to pack it in, it was myself and two other surfers that were there to slump him on a board to try to save his life.

This story was presented in partnership with Ocean Warrior Course

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