Elouera Surf Life Saving Club members Andrew Sharp and Nathan Neale were recently awarded the SLSNSW Rescue of the Month Award for July 2020 for the after-hours rescue of a bodyboarder in Cronulla.
It was early eventing on Friday 17 July 2020 and Andrew Sharp and Nathan Neale were practising their board paddling skills on club racing boards in heavy seas off Cronulla Point in South Sydney. The sun was setting, it was cloudy, raining and the waves were 6-8 foot with a strong southerly breeze blowing.
“It was really big and solid. We weren’t actually going to go out for a surf that day because it was so big. But we took the race boards out to get a few waves at a part of the beach that is more forgiving,” Andrew Sharp said.
“So, we headed out to see what it was like. And we got some good waves for about half an hour, just being wary of the impact zone off the point. It was about 6-8 foot.”
It was getting dark, so Nathan caught his last wave into shore. While Andrew was waiting for his last wave of the day, he thought he heard calls for help coming from a nearby rock platform.
“We made a decision before we went out to stay well away from the Cronulla rock pools. It was getting late and all the other surfers had gone in. It started raining and was getting dark. As I was waiting for my last wave to get into the beach, I thought I heard something,” Andrew said.
Although he wasn’t able to see anything, Andrew paddled closer to where he thought he heard the shouting coming from. This was an area that Andrew and Nathan had earlier avoided, due to the treacherous conditions.
Andrew heard the call for help again and paddled over in the fading light to investigate further. Coming closer to the danger area, he saw a bodyboarder paddling against a strong rip. At that stage, the bodyboarder was about 150 metres away from him.
“Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone struggling and screaming and I knew he was in a bad spot straight away,” Andrew said.
Andrew paddled over to the bodyboarder who was well inside the wave zone. The man, who was in his early 20s, had been struggling for about 20 minutes to paddle against the rip. He was exhausted and had injured his shoulder. Andrew reassured him before bringing him onto his race board and attempting to paddle out of the wave zone - before the next set of waves came through.
Getting out of the wave zone required paddling almost directly against the rip - and the bodyboarder was too exhausted to assist. The combined weight of the two men made it challenging for Andrew to properly balance and get the board moving quickly.
After some time, they made it to deeper water and headed back to Cronulla. By this stage, Nathan had paddled back out to check on Andrew.
It took ten minutes of paddling, including two occasions where they paddled back out to avoid a set of large waves, before they were able to take advantage of a lull and return to shore. Nathan remained nearby to assist Andrew in case a wave knocked the bodyboarder off the rescue board.
As they were coming in, a wave hit their board. However, Andrew had instructed the body boarder to hold tight to the race board and they were able to get back on the board and get washed into the beach. By this stage everyone was exhausted.
“The whole rescue in took at least 20 minutes. There were several things for me to navigate, several danger zones including negotiating the beach break,” Andrew said.
“The bodyboarder, Lucas, was really thankful. He said he’d been calling out for a while and nobody had heard him. I spent ten minutes with him just educating him about the conditions and why he needed to be more wary of going out in surf that big.
“It was only because I had a Kraka surf club board that I could have done it. I couldn’t have done the rescue on a normal surfboard. I’m a strong paddler, which helped, but it was pretty challenging. The guy shouldn’t have been out in those conditions,” Andrew said.
“I really think he would have drowned if I hadn’t heard his cries for help. There was no way he was going to get out of that situation on a bodyboard. And it was so dark and rainy, it wasn’t a place you wanted to be,” he said.
The successful completion of the rescue in very demanding conditions required fitness, good judgement and an ability to adapt to changing conditions. The bodyboarder was very lucky that Andrew and Nathan, both elite board paddlers, had the skills and experience to complete a successful rescue.
Andrew has achieved Long Service with Wanda SLSC and been a patrol captain at the club. He now races and patrols with Eloura SLSC. He recently won bronze in the Open Board Relay at the 2020 State Championships.
“Race training is so important in keeping fit and rescue ready - particularly during the winter off-season,” Andrew said. “The fact that I was training a lot helped me perform the rescue.”
Surf Life Saving NSW congratulates Andrew Sharp and Nathan Neale on winning the Rescue of the Month Award for July 2020 which was awarded to them in October 2020.
The SLSNSW Rescue of the Month aims to recognise excellence in lifesaving. Each month a ‘Rescue of the Month’ is awarded at State level for the most outstanding rescue performance for that period. Monthly winners have the chance to win the National Rescue of the Month and become finalists for the SLSNSW Rescue of the Year which is presented at the annual Awards of Excellence. Laerdel are proud supporters of Surf Life Saving NSW. Rescue of the Month winners receive Laerdel gift vouchers as recognition of their achievements. Twelve prizes are awarded annually.
The volunteer lifesavers were awarded SLSNSW Rescue of the Month for July 2020.