This month our coastal columnist Martin Dorey is talking about beach safety and the army of Nippers who have got your back.
I want to talk about beach safety. Don’t panic. It’s not going to be a lecture about swimming between the red and yellow flags or how to save yourself from a rip at the beach (FYI: swim perpendicular to it). No, this month I am going to heap some praise on a bunch of people who give their time week in, week out, to make the beaches of the UK safer for all of us.
The Surf Life Saving movement has been going strong since its inception in Bondi, Australia, in 1907. It came to the UK in 1953, with a number of clubs set up by Alan Kennedy, a travelling Aussie. My club, Bude Surf Life Saving Club, was the first. This year we will be celebrating our 70th birthday (hooray).
“Big deal,” you might say, “it’s just a bunch of wannabe rippers parading around in funny hats.” Well, maybe, but also, no. Surf Life Saving GB is a search and rescue charity with around 8,500 members and is the awarding body for the highest beach lifeguard qualification in the UK. Each year hundreds of new life savers become qualified thanks to the training provided by SLSGB and at clubs throughout the country.
Many of them, like my daughters, Maggie and Charlie, begin their life saving careers at the age of five or six when their overkeen parents push them into becoming Nippers. They attend beach sessions in the summer and pool sessions in the winter to learn rescue techniques and how to understand the ocean environment, with the ultimate end being to qualify as surf lifeguards once they turn 16.
Along the way they work hard, giving ten years of their time as well as sweat and tears (and sometimes blood) to becoming masters of their art. Their parents often get roped in to help, gaining lifeguard qualifications that enable them to coach and start their own life saving journeys. Over 18s at Bude compete at national and local level and take part in voluntary safety patrols in the summer.
What I love about this is that every beach town with a Surf Life Saving Club will be populated with an army of Nippers (6-12), Juniors (13-16) and Masters who can paddle boards, swim fast and could probably save your life if they had to.
Many of these Nippers and Juniors go on to become lifeguards employed by the RNLI or at local pools, making it a legitimate career pathway in places that may not have the best opportunities. Lifeguards are respected here in Bude.
My kids, like many others, have been through it. They have competed against other Nippers, cried, laughed, made lifelong friends and now give back to their community by saving lives. That’s huge. My eldest works for the RNLI in the summer during her holidays from uni and my youngest lifeguards a local slip and slide. It pays better than flipping burgers and makes me very, very proud indeed.
So, when you are looking for somewhere safe to swim this summer, search out the Nippers. It’s a lot safer when they are in the water. Funny hats and all.
Happy Birthday Bude SLSC.
For more columns by Martin Dorey, check out how he casts his judgement on bathing season.