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The opportunity of a lifetime has come up for five NSW surf lifesavers to travel to Japan and escape the Australian winter.

The Japan Lifesaving Exchange Program has been running successfully for six years. For the first time there will be three programs run that will involve 10 volunteer surf lifesavers who will work alongside their Japanese counterparts. The participants will assist with patrols, water safety and surf survival education during July and August in Onjuku Town, Oarai, and Iwai, Japan.

2017 NSW Lifesaver of the Year Lara Boyle has attended the exchange, she says it exceeded all her expectations. “We didn’t have a huge amount of information in the lead up other than we would be working long hard hours in the sun,” said Lara. “While the work was long and hard, the benefits were immense. We forged great new friendships, saw some unusual things on patrol and got to be completely immersed in Japanese culture.”

For the vibrant young Gold Medallion member, Lara recalls the biggest difference between Japanese and Australian patrols was that the flags weren’t placed in the safest part of the beach. She said, “The swimming area is created with semi-permanent lines of buoys acting as a net for swimmers.”

Lara said the culture around operations and rescues varied to that of her home beach. She said culture and status played a big part of an incident. “The pride and honour of a member of the public was considered before going to assist them. Not every beach has an IRB and their IRB rescue techniques were incredibly different to Australia. We watched training videos showing the driver stopping the engine and getting out to push the patient up into the boat, that came as a surprise.”

Lara and her team were placed at Onjuku Beach on the south east coast 20km from Chiba. The coastline is a long stretch of white sand with several lifeguard towers. We spoke to Lara about the beach-going population and how they spent their time at the beach, “Beach goers mostly came from the cities for the weekend and nearly all would take inflatables out with them. Alcohol could also be consumed on the beach at Onjuku which lead to some interesting encounters for us.”

For Lara, patrolling in Japan brought a new appreciation of being part of an international community dedicated to saving lives. She said that the trip reinforced the incredibly high standards of patrolling and patrol operation in Australia, as well as an appreciation of the innovation in lifesaving at home.

Part of the exchange is having the opportunity to be billeted by local families enabling participants to be completely immersed in the new culture. “Our hosts were phenomenal,” said Lara. “They were unbelievably welcoming, selfless, and generous towards us with one man literally giving me the shirt off his back.”

While not all of the Japanese lifesavers spoke English, Lara laughed when remembering they surpassed the Australian’s Japanese fluency. “We communicated the best we could, developing our own sign language and using some of our hosts as translators,” she said. Despite language providing small barriers the commonality of what they had to do on the beach was easily interpreted.

We wanted to know about something unique to the Japanese culture of lifesaving that Lara thought she could bring back to her club. She said, “I’ve brought back to Whale Beach SLSC one beautiful act of the Japanese, in getting the entire patrol to thank a member every time they do something to help the patrol.” She said gratitude and respect is core to what they do and could be easily adopted by Australians.

The Japanese Exchange Program is a truly unique incredible opportunity for our members. Lara says she couldn’t recommend it more highly and encourages people to put their names forward when nominations open. “Being able to immerse yourself in a different culture with likeminded people passionately working towards the same goal, is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had,” she concluded.

2019 SLSNSW Exchange Participants

Program 1

  • Andrew Wright Bronte SLSC

  • Rosie Taliano North Bondi SLSC

Program 2

  • Mike Stanley- Jones Avalon Beach SLSC

  • Braeden McHugh Brunswick SLSC

  • Alison Merridew North Bondi SLSC

Lara Boyle Japan Exchange

Lara Boyle Japanese Exchange Group


Friday 31 May 2019