MAKING SURFERS SAFER
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