After The Rescue

25 Feb 2019 1 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Presented by Coastalwatch & Surf Life Saving New South Wales

The final episode in a six part series, hosted by Nick Carroll

Surfing’s not that safe. That’s why we dreamed up this series. As surfers, occasionally we get ourselves into danger. Sometimes — not often, but sometimes — it’s mortal danger. We also see other people in danger. But how many of us know what to do when things go pear-shaped in the ocean?


Someone got rescued, but what about you?

OK, let’s say you’ve been involved in a rescue situation. Maybe it was critical, maybe not. But it was enough to make you think: what more can I do to prepare myself for things like this?

You could get some safety gear. This is pretty common now at the top end of the big wave riding world, with things like inflatable “pull” vests and padded impact suits. I reckon it will flow down into normal surfing and be one of surfing’s growth trends in the next five years or so: re-designed surfing helmets, kids’ pull vests, that sort of gear. It’s all good…but It can’t replace water knowledge and surf skills, and it can’t replace an awareness of what to do when someone gets into trouble. You can’t outsource those skills, they’re all on you.

So here’s a big one: get fit. And I don’t mean gym fit or appearance fit. Gym fit is about big muscles, and big muscles don’t always work well in surf zones. I’m talking about surf fit. Learn how to swim properly, and learn how to body surf, it’s an awesome way to get places with this. Swim out and do an hour of bodysurfing, no swim-fins, no handplane, just you and the water. It’ll teach you how to move quickly through surf zones, It’ll teach you how to breathe and relax, and you’ll get surf fit in a hurry.

Great and all. But bad things happen in the surf. Not just people needing some help back to shore. Shark attacks happen, they hardly ever happen, but they do happen. People have heart attacks as we noted in episode one. There’s spinal injuries, which are terrifying and happen surprisingly often anywhere a shorie is banging on a shallow sandbank.

Here’s a few things you might consider doing to be REALLY ready for those one in a million incidents.

Bronze medallion course with your local surf club. It’s a really good course. Surfers won’t be hugely challenged by the water component, but it’s good to learn hands-on how to do a rescue properly, and how to work with other people around that. Plus CPR, oxygen, defib, all that stuff is gold. The course is available at any surf club in Australia.

Then there’s surfersrescue24/7. Surfing NSW holds these courses through local boardriders’ clubs, surf schools, and specific sessions from time to time. Look up Surfing NSW online for that. It’s not a Bronze, but it’s pretty good.

A good applied first aid course. It’ll help you deal with a critical incident involving blood loss, whether that be shark attack or a severe fin chop. First aid will also show you about broken bones, stroke, asthma and numerous other conditions.

If I could suggest it, a spinal management course is a specialty. Spinal injuries are more common than you think, and when one happens, you really want to now how to cope wth it. Just read Darren Longbottom’s great book Beyond The Break for an example.

A lot of us can do first aid courses through our work, you can also get to them through a surf club. Spinal management is a bit more specialised but again can usually be found through the surf club network.

There’s also the question of your mental and emotional health following involvement in a rescue. Even a small incident can catch you off guard and leave a lasting mark; a life-saving effort may do a lot more than that. In that case, it’s possible or even likely that you’ll experience some post traumatic stress. You might experience sleeplessness, flashbacks, unusual levels of worry, re-living details of the incident, anxiety attacks, and/or a wider range of symptoms. Your family and friends might notice signs of it too.

It’s not a question of hardening up or whatever. Get help. Talk to someone. It’s important you come back to surfing happily.

For more resources, visit

See all the episodes in this series, any time, here on Coastalwatch

Other Episodes

Episode One: Fact & Fiction

Episode Two: 6 Things You Can Do Today To Become A Safer Surfer

Episode Three: You’re in the Water and Something Bad Happens, What Do You Do Next?

Episode Four: How To Do A Surfboard Rescue

Episode Five: CPR, How-To

This series was made with thanks to:

Surfers: Nina Lindley & Dylan Wilkinson
Footage: Matt Dunbar, Surfer Films, Ethan Smith & Surfing NSW
Written & presented by Nick Carroll
Filmed & produced by Sally Mac

Over the series, Nick will:

  • Talk through some of the fact and fiction around who’s at risk in the water
  • Suggest six things everyone can do, like right away, to make things safe
  • Show you the first moves to make in a watery crisis
  • Demo a simple method of rescuing a person using your normal, everyday board
  • Do a step-by-step, surf-specific CPR instructional
  • Give you some ideas about resources if you want to take your rescue skills to the next level

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