MAK­ING SURFERS SAFER

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - JO­CE­LYN AIRTH

WHEN Tim Reilly dived off a wave, he in­stantly knew he’d bro­ken his neck. Hit­ting the sand­bank hard at North Curl Curl, the surfer’s whole body went numb.

“I was face down in the wa­ter and I couldn’t move,” he said. “The waves kept com­ing, I took a cou­ple of mouth­fuls of wa­ter, I was drown­ing, and I thought, ‘well, this is it’.”

Out of the blue, two young blokes wrenched the 58-year-old from the wa­ter and dragged him all the way back to shore. Reilly’s spinal cord was wrecked. So, too, were the ar­ter­ies and nerves to his neck. The surfer had a stroke be­tween his res­cue and his ar­rival at hospi­tal. If it weren’t for the ac­tions of those first-re­spon­der surfers, he would be dead.

Three months later, Reilly is back walk­ing and will join surf­ing stars Sally Fitzgib­bons, Steph Gil­more and Tom Car­roll to back a string of new pro­grams, rang­ing from surf safety to wellbeing out of the wa­ter, at the Par­lia­men­tary Friends of Surf­ing launch this Tues­day.

Surf­ing NSW wants the 600,000 surfers along its coast trained up to re­spond to emer­gen­cies — just like Reilly’s he­roes — im­me­di­ately on the wa­ter.

“Surfers make more res­cues than any­one, es­pe­cially young kids, so we’ve gotta know how to bring in­jured peo­ple back to shore with­out mak­ing them worse,” Reilly said. “The clubs are look­ing af­ter as much beach as they can but many ac­ci­dents hap­pen at un­pa­trolled beaches, so the more we know the bet­ter.”

Surf­ing NSW also hopes to place a men­tal health sup­port per­son at each of the 110 board­rider clubs across Aus­tralia.

Af­ter bat­tling his own men­tal health is­sues in the early 1990s, for­mer dual world surf­ing cham­pion Car­roll be­lieves this ini­tia­tive could save lives. “I was re­ally strug­gling with my­self and, as a re­sult, al­co­hol and drugs were a good thing for me … and then the dark­ness came in strong,” Car­roll said.

“I strug­gled with ev­ery­day things like mak­ing sure your li­cence was up to date, do­ing chores, tak­ing out the garbage.

“We need to plant the seed in these young minds, get them talk­ing, show them that they’re sup­ported in an over­all sense.”

Surf­ing NSW CEO Luke Mad­den said the or­gan­i­sa­tion is ex­cited to work with both gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate groups to ad­dress drown­ing rates and men­tal health across NSW.

“We’ve iden­ti­fied over half a mil­lion recre­ational surfers in NSW,” Mad­den said. “If we can train ev­ery surfer to do our Res­cue 24/7 course for free … we can equip them with the skills to use their board to bring peo­ple to shore.”

Tom Car­roll (left) and Tim Reilly. Pic­ture: Glenn Duf­fus

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