Lifesavers Learn Kiwi Lessons

A group of NSW clubbies recently returned from across the ditch after gaining valuable knowledge at the annual lifesaving exchange with some of New Zealand’s finest lifesavers with the trio now inspired to take the lessons learned back to their respective clubs.

Twenty-three year old Darren Moses from Dixon Park SLSC, and Umina’s Jess Thomas (19) joined facilitator and Illawarra director of lifesaving Anthony Turner (Thirroul SLSC) for the annual five day trip to New Zealand.

The two young lifesavers were selected after participating in the City/Country Exchange Program in January and were excited to learn new skills and experiences from their Kiwi Counterparts.

SLSNSW caught up with the trio following their return to Australia to talk about the lessons learned and how they found their experience.

How long have you been involved in Surf Life Saving and what initially attracted you to it?

Darren:

I have been involved for 9 years ever since my younger brother joined nippers and I decided to get my Surf Rescue Certificate so I could help him out. My fascination for the Inflatable Rescue Boats from day one meant I was very keen to stick around.

Jess:

I have been involved in Surf Life Saving for the past 13 years, when I joined as a 6 year old Nipper. My parents initially got me involved in Nippers and have encouraged me to develop my skills since. A driving factor was to teach me about the surf environment so that I could handle it myself, especially living so close to the beach.

Anthony:

I have been involved in surf lifesaving for 28 years now. What I really enjoy are our beautiful beaches and the community involvement in promoting surf safety awareness and making lifelong friends from within the movement.

How was your experience during the City to Country/Country to City Exchange Program?

Darren:

The Country/City exchange program was incredibly positive and opened my eyes to the behind the scenes work to keep the movement running while also seeing how busier beaches are handled by their volunteers. What I came to realise is that there is no limit to how far you can go if you just put your mind to it, and there are an amazing number of pathways within surf life saving.

Jess:

The City to Country Exchange Program was an eye-opening experience, in particular learning about the patrolling methods of some country clubs where they are the only service available to respond to multiple beaches for patrols and for emergency callouts. It was also interesting to see how the larger surf impacts the clubs patrol setup and structure compared to Umina where we generally have smaller surf conditions.

Anthony:

The most positive thing for me as a facilitator was getting the chance to connect with the larger Sydney clubs (Maroubra/Bondi/North Bondi) and seeing how they patrol with the larger crowds they experience. Visiting the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Base and Offshore Rescue Base was also a highlight of the trip as well.

What was the highlight of the New Zealand Exchange Program?

Darren:

I would have to say I have three equal highlights of the entire program. These would have to be conquering some fears I had to do with bigger swell and rocks, fine tuning my board skills by watching techniques from other lifeguards and seeing how strong a team of lifesavers can become even after knowing each other for only a few hours. I felt I had complete trust in every one of the participants and facilitators from the second my foot hit the water.

Jess:

The highlight of the New Zealand Exchange Program was meeting so many like-minded and motivated people and being able to discuss a range of topics within Surf Life Saving at length. We were able to share ideas and thoughts about ours clubs, enabling me to gain an international perspective of Surf Life Saving which I will bring back to my Club.

As a group, we learned to bond and work as a team and resolve emergency situations through a number of training scenarios. This helped to highlight the similarities and differences between Surf Life Saving in New Zealand, compared to New South Wales.

Anthony:

Some of the highlights were the 2 day Intermediate Guard School at Bethells Beach where we practised rock entry and exit in challenging 2-3m swells, search patterns in the surf zone, night search rescue scenario and cave entry/exit. We also went to Piha and Muriwai Beaches and discussed with the Surf Lifeguards patrolling techniques and the rescue equipment used at various locations in New Zealand.

Did you notice any differences about how New Zealand approach patrols compared to what you are familiar with?

Darren:

It is very well known that the West coast of New Zealand has big surf breaks that go out from the shore as far as the eye can see. This makes the lifeguards take a very different approach to how they would attempt a rescue if needed.

The beaches we visited had an IRB constantly rescue ready and each guard carried a pair of fins on the belt on their hips with a rescue tube within an arm’s reach at all times. Rescue boards are very rarely used let alone even seen on the west coast compared to them being a major rescue tool back here at home.

Jess:

I was amazed by how the clubs on the West Coast of New Zealand, rarely use rescue boards to perform rescues. This is a stark contrast to Umina SLSC where rescues boards are used for the vast majority of incidents. However after experiencing the conditions first hand and having a go on a rescue board in some challenging surf conditions I can understand why IRBs and rescue tubes are the primary rescue tools.

Anthony:

The main equipment used IRBs, RWCs and rescue tubes. Rescue boards are generally not used due to large swells and distance to paddle to rescue person.

What was the most important skill you learnt from the New Zealand Lifeguards?

Darren:

The most important thing I will take away from the New Zealand Lifeguards would be how comfortable and easy it can be to be so close to rock ledges even with a patient with very large swell in the area.

Jess:

The most important thing that I learnt from the New Zealand Lifeguards was the structure of their emergency callout teams and how this is utilised in practise. As Club Captain this information is invaluable and will help me improve Umina’s emergency callout team’s capability and skills into the future.

Anthony:

The lessons I learned can be summarised with the following key points.

• Unfamiliar environment around rock entries/exits in large 2-3m swells (rescuing a person)
• Rescue scenarios in cave environment
• The use of a finn belt, flippers and tube around rock platforms
• Assessing correct time to enter and exit rock platforms with a patient

What do you think was the most important skill/thing that you taught the New Zealand Lifeguards?

Darren:

I would like to think I managed to pass on some of my board skills to the younger lifeguards whilst I also learned a way to improve my rescue technique.

Jess:

Due to the large surf conditions on Auckland’s West Coast, many New Zealand Lifeguards do not have much experience with rescue boards. During the Intermediate Guard School I, along with the other NSW representatives were able to teach the New Zealand Lifeguards how to properly use rescue boards for conscious and unconscious rescues and how to bring the patient back to the beach safely. This was very rewarding as there was a significant improvement across the short time we were there.

Anthony:

During our discussions with the New Zealand teams I provided a detailed training and assessing talk on rescue board techniques on conscious and unconscious victims in the surf zone to the New Zealand Surf Lifeguards.

Are there any insights you can take back to your club that your feel will improve your skills as a patrolling member?

Darren:

After being on this exchange I want to see more and more of SLSNSW Members carrying correctly fitting swim fins on a belt so they are easy to put on in the case of a Rescue being needed.

Jess:

I found that the culture with Surf Life Saving New Zealand is founded on self-improvement through training, either with IRBs, in large surf or near heavily used rock locations. Although our geography is different at Umina, I believe further individual training combined with group scenario training will improve not only my skills but the skills of other club members at Umina.

Anthony:

The benefits of increasing your surf awareness/knowledge and broadening your skills base as well as upskilling with higher awards are all important lessons to take back to my home club.

What are you own goals within Surf Life Saving, following the New Zealand Exchange Program?

Darren:

From this point on I would like to get slightly more involved in the facilitating of programs around my branch and the state to be able to pass on whatever knowledge I have while learning more and more from likeminded lifesavers.

Jess:

I hope to continue as Director of Lifesaving at Umina SLSC and enhance the clubs patrolling and callout capability. In addition, I want to drive initiatives that involve our younger members to keep them involved and interested in the club and Surf Life Saving more broadly.

Anthony:

I would like to pass on my knowledge to members on the valuable techniques learnt, ie rock entries/exits, night search rescue scenarios and search patterns in the surf zone. As well as stressing the importance of working as a team on patrol and knowing your roles on the beach.

What advice would you give to other young lifesavers thinking of applying for the program?

Darren:

I would have to say go for it. Apply for the Country/City or City/Country exchange and just be yourself. There is need to try and be something different to impress anyone, just get on board and be sure to soak up as much information as you can. It is a once in a lifetime experience.

Jess:

I would 100% recommend applying for the Lifesaving Exchange Program. You have a great opportunity to make lasting friendships and connections with people from all over New South Wales and New Zealand while learning about their club and how they operate overall. The program has significantly helped me improve my understanding of Surf Life Saving, my own lifesaving skills and my confidence in the water and as Director of Lifesaving at Umina SLSC.

Anthony:

I would not hesitate to recommend this beneficial program to any member striving to broaden their experience within lifesaving.

Photograph- Jess, Darren, and Anthony are all smiles upon arrival at Auckland Airport (above), and O'Neills Beach at Sunset (below)

Tue 22 Mar 2016