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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.