Surfing schools call for more lifeguards

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Surf Lifesaving WA helicopter snapped this image of Margaret River surf instructor Jack Teague rescuing a tourist on November 30.
Camera IconThe Surf Lifesaving WA helicopter snapped this image of Margaret River surf instructor Jack Teague rescuing a tourist on November 30. Credit: Surf Lifesaving WA

Operators of two prominent local surf schools joined a chorus of local surfers this week, saying increased pressure on beaches meant summer lifeguard numbers needed to be extended at the river mouth, while popular locations like Redgate needed lifeguards during the peak holiday period.

“Unless you man it, there’s not much more you can do,” Margaret River Surf School owner Jarrad Davies told the Times.

“You don’t even have to man it all year. There’s a six-week window where it’s needed.”

Josh Palmateer Surf Academy director Josh Palmateer said more signage was not a solution when visitors sometimes hung their towels on warning signs.

“We’re always performing rescues down at the river mouth and not just us — there’s always other surfers pulling someone out … because there are so many rescues taking place,” he said.

The surf academy was snapped by the Westpac Surf Lifesaving helicopter mid-rescue recently, but Mr Palmateer and Mr Davies said regular rescues had become part of their job.

“I’m happy doing them,” Mr Davies said. “It’s never bothered me … (but) I feel that beach should be lifeguarded.”

Other surfers said no one was against helping save lives but the bulk of rescues “no one ever hears about” were falling to ordinary beach users and lives would inevitably be lost, as they had been at Redgate in 2012 and Contos in 2007.

“It’s not fair, we’re not professionals, and nobody wants that on their conscience if and when a rescue goes pear-shaped,” one surfer said on condition of anonymity.

“Sometimes we find ourselves having to save these visitors (from non-Australian backgrounds) from themselves, because they have no idea how to get out of a rip and freak out when we tell them what to do.”

Mr Palmateer confirmed last week’s rescue included the people rescued panicking when given instructions about how to safely get out of a rip.

“It’s definitely a burden on the (surf) coaches,” he said.

“They have enough on their plates … but we do it because it’s in our nature and we know the ocean.”

The operators recognised the predicament for local governments struggling to provide lifeguards when the State Government did not, but believed it was ultimately a Government responsibility.

Visitors are urged to take caution with unknown waters.

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