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A group of surf lifesavers from The Lakes Surf Life Saving Club, including four members of a school-based Nippers training program, saved a large group of people caught in a rip at Soldiers Beach and have been awarded NSW Rescue of the Month for November. 


It was 6.30pm on Friday 27 November and 14-year-old Ben McCulkin, who is a Nipper at The Lakes SLSC and only recently completed his Surf Rescue Certificate (SRC), had just arrived at Soldiers Beach for a swim.

Looking out from a car park above the beach, Ben noticed a group of people caught in a fast-moving rip that was sweeping them out to sea. It was outside normal lifeguard patrol hours, so Ben raced down to the beach to assist.

The group, who were aged between 12 and 15, were shouting for help and struggling in the three-foot swell. The rip was pulling them out into deep water and close to the rocks.

There was no rescue equipment available and no access to the clubhouse, so Ben swam out to help unassisted. He managed to reach three people and assist them back to shore, before swimming back out to help another four people.

Nipper Brayden Hawkins, 15, and Johnny Walker, 70, who are also members of The Lakes surf club, quickly made their way to the rocks to help several members of the group who had been washed up onto the rock platform.

Another member, Dave Solman, grabbed a race board and immediately paddled out to assist four other swimmers in distress. He managed to return all four safely to shore.

Dave and Ben then returned to the water to retrieve the remaining two people in distress – a 12-year-old and an adult who had swum out to help them. Both had been swept 150 metres out to sea.

Rather than paddle the two people back to the beach, Dave and Ben were guided to a safe section of the rock platform by Brayden Hawkins, who used the ‘beach to water’ signals he’d learnt in his SRC training to communicate with the rescuers.

Sean Leicester, President of The Lakes SLSC, said that had Ben and the other Nippers not received the training they had – and acted so swiftly – lives could have been lost.

“It was great to see so many of our youth members spring into action and use the skills and training that our club provides to save so many lives,” Sean said.

“All four Nippers involved in the rescue take part in a program that The Lakes surf club established with local school, St Brigid’s College. They spend Friday afternoons training for their Surf Rescue Certificates and Bronze Medallions.

“It is a testament to the youth program and the training the club’s done with the kids that they were able to carry out such a successful rescue.

“If our members hadn’t been there, the incident could very well have ended in tragedy,” Sean said.

Ben’s father, Mark McCulkin, said that the family had only recently moved to the Central Coast from Lithgow and that until Ben’s recent involvement with the school Nippers program, he hadn’t really swum at the beach.

“Up until Ben’s Nipper training with The Lakes surf club, his only real experience in the water was swimming in dams,” said Mark McCulkin.

Ben McCulkin said that thanks to his training, he knew exactly what to do.

“The club’s really brought us all up as a team and we knew exactly what to do with communications and signals,” Ben McCulkin said.

Ben McCulkin, Brayden Hawkins, Cooper Sweeney, Daniel Lahey, David Solman and John Walker, all of whom were involved in the rescue have been awarded Surf Life Saving Central Coast Rescue of the Month for November.

“We are so proud of our young Lakes Entrance members for performing this amazing rescue and are glad to see them recognised by SLSNSW for the Rescue of the Month for November,” said Surf Life Saving Central Coast Director of Lifesaving Simon Cusack. “These six boys have demonstrated the true value of the training our lifesavers receive and the value of their service to the community. When a life or death incident like this one arises the skill set and confidence is ingrained.

“These boys performed an outstanding rescue of 18 people with no fear and a great level of maturity that we commend them for. Without them, lives would have been lost,” said Cusack.


Tuesday 23 February 2021

(L-R) Brayden Hawkins, Cooper Sweeney, Ben McCulkin and Daniel Leahy.