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Soft Board Ban Not Based on Hard Facts

By Duncan Horscroft on August 23, 2018 in News

Surfers and a ski paddler at North Bondi back in 1929, by Kelly Slater

It seems the innuendo surrounding the potential banning of soft surf craft in the patrolled area of North Bondi has been taken out of context, with Waverley Mayor John Wakefield saying there will be no such action taken.

The ground swell grew following a complaint by a group of swimmers about the potential dangers of soft board surfing between the flags.

But despite the furore, Cr Wakefield has said there “is no plan or proposal to ban soft boards”.

In a recent interview with that ‘other local publication’ it was suggested that Cr Wakefield believed the lifeguards weren’t being vigilant enough in their duties in policing surf craft.

“This is not true – swimmers individually and as groups have been complaining about safety concerns for many years,” Cr Wakefield told The Beast.

“They don’t blame the lifeguards, nor do Council, nor do I.”

A survey on the Waverley Council website initially suggested all surf craft with fins be moved
to the southern end of the beach where dangerous rips prevail.

“The paragraph in the survey about moving boards to the southern end is not the intention and should not have been published in the survey,” he said.

“This is why it was modified. The survey is part of an annual risk review of lifeguard services and beach safety.

“I do believe that there needs to be a greater vigilance on boards between the flags. My appraisal is not a criticism of individual lifeguards or the service as a whole. It is a focus on supporting our staff to be able to address community concerns in the face of changing conditions, evolving community expectations, and their impacts on work practices.”

The new Council survey states that “Council staff have no record of administering first aid as a result of collision between soft board surfers and bathers between the flags”, which would suggest the lifeguards are doing their job.

“My understanding is that only very limited and inconsistent statistics are collected,” Cr Wakefield said.“One of our aims is to collate safety and injury statistics and use that information to improve service delivery as well as lobby the state and federal governments for more funding for our beaches.”

Local lifeguards, who have put Waverley Council in the world spotlight with the award-winning Bondi Rescue television series, were up in arms about the suggestion they are not doing their jobs properly.

One former lifeguard said the main problem was that Council doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of what happens on the beach.

“There has been no consultation with the professionals as to what is involved in beach management and Council needs to have an understanding of the guidelines surrounding the risk and safety procedures on the beach,” he said.

Cr Wakefield said the lifeguards were regularly consulted and “Council staff are not being blamed by Council”.

The former lifeguard said there have been more incidents of bodysurfers and swimmers colliding than there have been with surf craft, but the mayor said there were no statistics being properly collected on those issues.

Bondi Beach, which is now a National Surfing Reserve, has been the breeding ground for many surfing champions and most of the older brigade learned their skills on the original foam Coolite boards, which were allowed between the flags.

But these have been replaced with more modern ‘foamies’, which come in a wide range of sizes and have fins, and, along with body- boards, are considered a no-no between the flags, which carry ‘No Surf Craft’ signs.

North Bondi plays host to a strong contingent of Nippers who learn on hard and soft paddle- boards during the summer season, and the local surf school provides a learning facility also on soft boards with fins.

“This is true and is one of the main reasons that there was never an intention to ban boards from North Bondi,” Cr Wakefield said.