Thursday, 29 March 2012

The dangers of the surf on the Gold Coast: the death of a young surf life saver at Kurrawa Beach

Looking towards Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast

I am filled with admiration for the members of Surf Life Saving Australia. Their member clubs do an amazing job keeping our beaches safe and protecting recreational swimmers of all levels from the dangers of an unpredictable surf. The clubs organise the vast majority of ocean swims as fundraisers and almost all are run in a professional manner by a team of dedicated volunteers who love what they do and have a passion for all things to do with the ocean.

They're also a competitive bunch who test their skills against each other in surf life saving competitions.

 But over the past two years the biggest competition of all, the national championships, has been marred by tragedy.

In 2010 accomplished surf life saver and ironman Saxon Bird, 19, drowned at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships which are held annually at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Goast.    

And just yesterday, 14-year-old Matthew Barclay, competing in the Under-15 board event at the 2012 championships, went missing in the surf on that same beach. His body was found this morning.

Here's a link to a recent story:

At the inquest into Saxon Bird's death there were calls to move the championships away from Kurrawa Beach. This didn't happen.

Is it right to play the blame game with the loss of another young life? I don't know. And I don't know enough about the circumstances surrounding Matthew Barclay's death to make an informed comment.

I did an ocean swim at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast in late 2011 and was surprised at the 'sweep' or current that dragged swimmers north towards Kurrawa. The swim I did started at 7.30am before the swell picked up and conditions became hairy. Gold Coast beaches are, for the most part, one continuous stretch of coast fully exposed to the elements.

In the news story in the link, someone said: "The statistics show this is an extraordinary run of bad fortune."

Try to explain that to Matthew Barclay's family. 


Anonymous said...

I’ll admit, I’m perplexed by some of the responses I’ve been hearing regarding this incident. Like you, I wasn’t there, so don’t know the full details

However, I’ve been involved in swimming and surf lifesaving sport all my life. Now, my kids are involved. Of course, there is risk inherent in surf lifesaving competition, just as there is in any sport. That is a large part of its appeal.

Competitors love to test themselves – and the bigger the surf, the more they’re able to test their skills.

Unfortunately, you will never be able to totally eliminate these incidents from occurring. That doesn't mean steps shouldn’t be taken to minimise risk, and I guess that’s what will be debated. That said, most competitors I’ve talked to (my kids included) are opposed to wearing helmets. But, if they change the rules, then of course we will comply.

Shayne said...

Since I wrote this post Matthew's parents have said they blame no one for the tragedy.

I totally agree with you - I do ocean swims with people who relish the tougher conditions.

I sign a waiver for every swim I do. I understand the risks and it's my choice on the day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shayne. Yes, I've seen the parents have publicly stated they don't blame the surf lifesaving organizers. It’s a brave thing to do. While I, and my kids, recognise there is inherent risk in ocean swimming and surf lifesaving sport, I don’t know how I’d react if one of them was to drown. I hope some sanity prevails, and that reasoned heads are able to examine the facts to determine what steps (if any) can be taken to minimize this sort of tragedy from happening again. My personal feeling is that the ocean is such an unpredictable environment (that’s why we love it) there isn’t much that can be done to completely prevent these tragedies.