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Daily Nation (Barbados) - - Front Page - By CAR­LOS ATWELL BY

SURF­ING IS A SAFE SPORT once you know the ropes.

In light of the re­cent tragic death of promis­ing young ju­nior pro surfer Alexan­der “Zan­der” Venezia, 16, at Cat­tle­wash, St Joseph, in­ter­na­tional surf­ing in­struc­tor Ni­cholas Don­awa urged par­ents not to let the ac­ci­dent de­ter them from al­low­ing their chil­dren to learn to surf.

“It would be like not learn­ing to drive be­cause some­one dies in a car ac­ci­dent – which has a way higher death rate than surf­ing. How­ever, I would rec­om­mend that they learn with a school or an ex­pe­ri­enced lo­cal in­struc­tor who would be able to teach about all the dif­fer­ent [wave] breaks and po­ten­tial haz­ards. In ev­ery­thing there is danger but surf­ing is [rel­a­tively] safe, ther­a­peu­tic, gives you aer­o­bic ex­er­cise and re­lieves men­tal and phys­i­cal stress,” Don­awa said.

The vet­eran surfer and coach said ob­ser­va­tion was one of the surfer’s most im­por­tant tools – be­ing able to look at the surf and see what was hap­pen­ing out on the wa­ter.

“As a coach, I would say the most pow­er­ful as­sis­tance for a surfer is ob­ser­va­tion – to sit on the beach to see where the breaks are go­ing as well as any rip cur­rents and where the wind is blow­ing,” he said.

In ad­di­tion, Don­awa, who is also the pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer for the Bar­ba­dos Surf­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, said the tragedy should be used as a ve­hi­cle to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion at Cat­tle­wash and Bathsheba.

“I think the best thing to think about at this time is what we can learn from an in­ci­dent like this. Two things come to my mind: one, the need to set a CPR course – maybe manda­tory – to make sure we can help any­body at any time – and two, giv­ing the life­guards here, who have to pa­trol the en­tire stretch, a proper sta­tion and a jet ski,” he said.

“I want to start a fundraiser to get a jet ski for the life­guards to learn surf res­cue. All the top surf­ing na­tions have jet ski life­guard as­sis­tance but here they are on foot or have to get lifts. Bar­ba­dos is a very strong surf­ing na­tion, pro­duc­ing very high qual­ity surfers and the as­so­ci­a­tion is look­ing to push that even more so; there will be peo­ple push­ing the el­e­ments and we need to be pre­pared,” he said.

As for Alexan­der’s death, Don­awa called it a freak ac­ci­dent. The en­tire surf­ing com­mu­nity was shaken, he added.

“He was an as­tound­ing ath­lete, the num­ber one un­der-16 surfer, who had just come back from win­ning the Rip Curl Grom­search in the United States; a great all round kid who the younger kids looked up to.

“The spot he died is called Box by Box, the kind of spot ev­ery­body looks at but don’t surf – I don’t know any­body who would have surfed it – but Zan­der was fear­less and the waves were break­ing awe­some. Cat­tle­wash has a fairly large reef, but Box by Box has a key­hole, so you have to time your en­try and exit as there is no beach be­hind you so it pro­duces re­ally beau­ti­ful tubes. He was such an ex­pe­ri­enced surfer – what hap­pened was just a freak ac­ci­dent,” he said.

Don­awa said it was hard to ac­cept Alexan­der’s loss, more so for his par­ents and fam­ily, adding he felt like he lost “a piece of my heart”, but he had to con­tinue.

“I’m go­ing to Ja­pan to coach the Rus­sian ju­nior team for the 2017 In­ter­na­tional Surf­ing As­so­ci­a­tion World Ju­nior Surf­ing Cham­pi­onships, where Zan­der would be headed if he had lived. In the mean­time, Bar­ba­dos is the per­fect spot for train­ing,” he said.

NI­CHOLAS DON­AWA show­ing Box by Box, the area where 16-year-old Alexan­der Venezia lost his life. He said there was danger in ev­ery­thing, but surf­ing re­mained a rel­a­tively safe sport. (Picture by Nigel Browne.)

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