The number of surfers, swimmers and bodyboarders who get into difficulty in the sea increases every year, and it’s often down to lack of knowledge about the beach and conditions.
Surf lessons teach you so much more than just how to stand up and ride a wave. We caught up with RNLI lifeguard and Westcountry Surf School owner Joel Bishop to find out why beach safety is such an important aspect of your surf lesson.
Why do you think people often underestimate the potential hazards of the sea?
Thousands of people visit the coast every year and for those who don’t live by the sea, they don’t know what to look for and think that the sea is the same everyday, which it isn’t. The sand banks shift, the weather plays a part – you can visit the same beach every day and it won’t be the same. It all comes down to knowledge, and if you live in a city, you won’t necessarily know about rips, currents and other hazards that you need to be aware of.
What do you cover in the beach safety aspect of the surf lesson?
After a warm up on the beach, I talk about the conditions that day ie. wind, how big the waves are and advise people not to go out beyond waist deep water – they don’t need to. I also talk through where the lifeguards are positioned, where they have put their flags (and what each colour represents) and why they have done that.
I then explain what a rip is and that if you get caught in one it can suck you out to sea. I tell people how to spot a rip and what to do if they caught in one – paddle parallel to the beach and once out of the rip, head toward to the shore or, raise your hand and shout for help.
I always check at the end of the lesson to make sure people have understood and remembered what I have taught them.
How important is it to have surf lessons rather than hiring equipment and having a go yourself?
It’s hugely important as you never know what situation you are going to be in. Every year we hear of surf related incidents where people get into trouble and unfortunately in some cases, it has cost them their lives.
If you have surf lessons you won’t be in that situation – you will know what to do. I want to pass on my knowledge so that people feel confident and can be self sufficient when they get to the point of surfing on their own. Even if you have surfed before and do it infrequently, it’s important to have a refresher.
What advice would you give to people to help them avoid getting into difficulty in the sea?
- Have a surf lesson!
- Understand what the flags mean and stay within the correct area ie. the black and white flagged area is for surfers only
- Plan ahead – don’t just get in wherever you think as you could be heading into a rip. If you are unsure, ask the lifeguards – they are there to help.
- Make sure you can spot a rip current, and don’t panic if you get caught in one. Follow this advice on what to do in a rip current.
Westcountry Surf School is a friendly, professional surf school based at Watergate Bay, offering expert coaching and personal tuition of 1 coach to 6 students per lesson. They’ll even give you a lift to the beach!