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When 13-year-old Mia Campbell paddled out into the Bar Beach surf with her dad for some after-school board training one sunny Wednesday afternoon in May, she could never have guessed that the events which followed would shape her lifesaving journey and earn her the Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month award.

It was Wednesday 19 May, at around 4pm, but the Cooks Hill SLSC member remembers it like it was yesterday.

Despite her competence in the water – Mia is a previous silver medal winner in the Surf Teams event at the NSW Championships – she was just learning how to navigate the ocean on a race board with her dad, Ben.

“I had only just started on the mal the previous month,” she said.

“I caught a wave in and noticed Dad’s board washed up near the shore. I thought nothing of it and assumed he would just swim in.

“I then realised Dad wasn’t swimming in, so I decided to paddle over.  As I got closer I noticed he was getting smashed by the waves and struggling to keep afloat.

“I knew then something wasn’t right as Dad is very competent in the surf.

“When I got closer, he said ‘I need help, I can’t move my arm and I need you to rescue me. A dolphin’s hit me.’”

Indeed, Ben – a Cooks Hill SLSC senior patrolling member, club coach and recently elected Director of Surf Sports – had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, struck by a dolphin attempting to jump out of the water.

Aside from a tennis ball-sized hole in the edge of the board, the dolphin also connected heavily with Ben’s left shoulder and chest, rendering him incapacitated in the surf and struggling to stay afloat.

Without missing a beat, Mia jumped straight back into the ocean and paddled the 150m out to him, negotiating the swell and managing to get him onto the board using a technique typically reserved for unconscious patients.

“I used the board roll technique to get Dad onto the board, where you flip the board twice,” she said.

“We negotiated the breaking waves on return to shore and I made sure I told him when a wave was coming and when we were going to catch it.”

Now several months on, Ben has made a full recovery and is confident getting back into the water and helping to train the next generation of lifesavers.

As for Mia, her quick thinking and confidence in the water was awarded Rescue of the Month for May, and was crucial in avoiding a very different end result.

“At the time I was just thinking about getting Dad onto the board and safely back to shore,” she said.

“I was feeling confident, but worried about dad because he was in a lot of pain. I’m happy he’s okay.”

Thursday 16 September 2021