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Surfer Death Reopens Call For Winter Patrol

By Dan Hutton on August 2, 2014 in News

Photo: Bill Kriketos

Photo: Bill Kriketos

The recent tragic death of a surfer at Tamarama Beach has once again opened debate about the need for the year-round presence of lifeguards at both Bronte and Tamarama Beaches.

At present, these beaches are serviced by professional lifeguards during the warmer months between September and April, but of Waverley Council’s beaches, only Bondi is serviced full-time during the winter months.

With the popularity of surfing, ocean swimming and stand-up paddleboarding increasing each year, and with improved wetsuit technology allowing participants to take part in their chosen hobby year-round, the need for lifeguards at these beaches has never been greater.

Interestingly, both Coogee and Maroubra beaches are patrolled year round, despite the former rarely receiving any swell, and Randwick Council assesses the weather each week to determine the demand for lifeguards at Clovelly Beach.

While neither Waverley Council nor the lifeguard service should be expected to shoulder the blame for the death of Matthew Richell, the 41 year-old father of two who passed away at Tamarama, it is not unreasonable to suggest that his life could’ve been saved if a lifeguard was on the scene faster.

At present, it takes approximately two minutes for a lifeguard to get from Bondi to Tamarama, and around another one to two minutes prior to this to pull on a rash vest, grab the necessary equipment and launch the jetski. That’s up to four crucial minutes, which could be the difference between life and death.

Waverley Council has recently installed a camera at Bronte Beach that feeds through to a screen at the Bondi lifeguard tower, and another camera has been approved and fast-tracked for Tamarama. Council has also gained approval for a $500,000 lifeguard tower to be built at Bronte in the near future.

When asked whether the recent incident at Tamarama would change Council’s mind about stationing lifeguards at Bronte and Tamarama during winter, Waverley Mayor Sally Betts said a decision would not be made until more information was available.

“We have a philosophy of making the beaches as safe as we can,” she said. “Any time anything happens where there’s an incident, be that big or small, we go through a thorough process of then working out what our risk management strategy is and whether we should change our current processes. We do that all the time.

“Separately, annually we do an assessment of our services for risks, and last year the whole lifeguard service went through an additional independent review. We look at everything all the time.

“In this particular case we are doing a review, but we don’t have the autopsy report yet or anything like that. That will inform us a little bit more.

“We won’t make a decision until we’ve got all the information that we need and we haven’t got it all yet.”

When asked if the cost of funding lifeguards at Bronte and Tamarama during winter was a concern, the mayor was quick to deny this.

“We’ve got a budget of $2 million, so it doesn’t matter what the cost is. It’s not about cost,” she said. “Let’s hope that while Council is carrying out its risk assessments and waiting for more information, no other lives are lost. In the meantime, it’s a case of ‘ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK’ if you’re thinking of going for a surf anywhere other than Bondi.