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Surfers saving lives: Northland wave riders carry out average of 2.4 rescues each

Riria Dalton-Reedy

An unrecognised water safety resource may be waiting just beyond the breakers.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Northland surfers have rescued an average of at least two swimmers each, according to a national study.

More than 400 New Zealand surfers from across the country were surveyed as part of a study by masters student Jamie Mead.

An Aotearoa first, the research has highlighted the crucial role local surfers play in keeping swimmers safe.

Of the 1274 rescues reported, a minimum of 88 were by Northland surfers, making up 7 per cent of the national statistics. The data represents rescues, so each rescue could be one or more people.

Thirty-six Northlanders were surveyed and made an average of 2.4 rescues each.

Mead did the study alongside Auckland University of Technology, Surfing New Zealand and Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ).

“I am a surfer and used to be a clubbie when I was younger.

“This opportunity came up and it seemed like a great topic, as there was no existing research of its kind in New Zealand.

“Once I got started and the contribution of surfers became apparent, I really wanted to shed some light on an unrecognised community resource making a huge difference in drowning prevention,” he says.

The research suggests a lack of swimming ability and awareness of hazards such as rips got swimmers in trouble.

Northcoast Boardriders club president Tia Lord says rescues are common.

“Sometimes it’s not a massive rescue.

“I’ve had to paddle over to someone who’s swimming and give them a bit of advice.

“If you’re not there to help them, it can turn south really quickly.”

Lord recently paddled out to help her son and nephew return to shore, saying it can also happen to people who are confident in the water.

Lord is not surprised at the number of rescues.

“We’ve got heaps of remote beaches. It’s not surprising that people find themselves in trouble and not know what to do,” she says.

Mead’s research shows over 80 per cent of the rescues were on beaches without lifeguards.

Lord suggests more signs on remote beaches could encourage safer swimming.

She says earlier intervention and a better understanding of water safety in schools could lower the number of rescues.

Ben Kennings, Surfing New Zealand chief executive, said: “With help from SLSNZ we’ve been rolling out a course called Surfers Rescue 24/7, which was first developed in New South Wales, Australia.

“It equips surfers with vital rescue techniques and essential CPR skills, giving them the tools to help people who may find themselves in trouble in the water.” (edited)

Hero Image: Surfers rescue 24/7. Photo / Supplied

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