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Surf Survival Week With Dr Will Allen

Spurred by his involvement in the dramatic rescue of a family whose boat overturned on the Taieri Rivermouth Bar in April 2021, Dr Will Allen has set out to empower surfers everywhere to improve rescue outcomes. He’s determined to make something of the tragic incident that claimed the life of the youngest family member. And that’s where you come in …

Will and Michaela are determined to turn a tragedy into a learning opportunity for surfers. Photo: Will Allen

There is a real need to help educate surfers in basic life support and in general preparedness for emergency’s that they will inevitably face in their surfing lives. Studies show that surfers perform a disproportionate number of bystander rescues every year. These rescues are more frequently performed by surfers with more experience and those with prior CPR training and/or lifeguarding experience.

There is a great need in New Zealand to act now given our drowning statistics. As surfers we are custodians of the sea and whilst every effort should be made to let surf lifesaving and emergency services do their job, the reality is, we are often the first on scene and those first few minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Bystander CPR efforts save lives. This combined with early defibrillation using automated external defibrillators can double survival rates in victims who have suffered cardiac arrests in the community. Educating surfers will not only help to safe lives at sea, but also add to the critical mass of people trained in CPR in the community.

A police spokeswoman said they were called to Taieri Mouth, about 1.10pm, on April 3, 2021, after a small boat with an outboard motor flipped while attempting to cross the bar. Surfers were able to rescue all members of the family, but sadly the youngest child could not be revived. Photo: ODT/Peter McIntosh

My name is Will, and along with my surfing friends Michaela, James and Evie, we were involved in the Taieri Mouth boating incident in April 2021. We rescued a family of five, but only four survived. This has served as a call to action for us.

CPR education has long been a subject dear to me after losing my mother to a cardiac event in 2011. I know what it feels like to feel hopeless in an emergency setting and it is something I want no one else to experience.

Thankfully, after a decade in the medical profession I have also seen countless lives saved with effective CPR, and this is my inspiration.

Dr Will Allen. Photo: Derek Morrison

Mission Statement

Like swimming and riding a bike, basic life support should be seen as a life skill everyone should carry with them.

Action Plan

Starting in Dunedin our aim is to educate every surfer in New Zealand, young and old, on ocean safety and basic life support.

Our mission will be delivered through several key events and media channels as follows.

This will begin with Surf Survival Night to be held on November 18, 2021 (Covid permitting). Participants will hear firsthand our Taieri Mouth story, which includes education on cold water shock, drowning and basic life support. The event will also include a part on haemorrhage control as I have a personal story from my time working in South Africa when a friend was attacked by a great white shark.

We are working with Surfing Medicine International to deliver this content and the event. This will be held at South Coast Boardriders in the evening and the event is intended to be free for participants with food provided.
Register your interest for the Surf Survival Night here.

Surfers Rescue Workshop, November 19-20, 2021. This event serves as a natural extension of the survival night, with its practical application. The event over the Friday evening and Saturday will be held at St Clair Beach. The event will be run by Surfing New Zealand and will feature a men’s and a women’s course.
Estimated cost: $15-20/per person. Surfing NZ will arrange sign up.
Register your interest for the Surfers Rescue Workshop here. More info here.

The Aotearoa Women’s Surfing Association have expressed interest in helping deliver the women’s workshop and will help in creating a wider celebration of women’s surfing in Dunedin on the day. Ideas include a girl-grom contest and food at local supporting cafe, Long Dog.

Surf Survival Summer Series: We aim to provide basic life support workshops throughout the summer, again using South Coast Boardriders as our base in Dunedin. We will particularly be targeting educating children on the topic of basic life support, using the validated educational tools that have been used to great effect in Park Run life support training in the UK. We will aim to collaborate with the boardriders in educating our groms on contest days. Educating children will hopefully empower them to think critically about danger and promote a sense of responsibility for their siblings and friends in the ocean.

Dunedin is essentially a pilot for these events and after much refining, our plan is to roll the program out to every boardriders club throughout New Zealand.

We have also partnered with New Zealand Surf Journal. We’re working with founder, Derek Morrison, to produce an ocean-safety web film series that will enable us to share more widely the education and messaging.

To help drive this initiative, Michaela and I are not taking new contracts in the hospital from January, so we will be able to give this project the time it deserves. As passionate surfers, doctors and ex-lifeguards we feel well placed to help deliver the time and energy to this valuable cause.

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