How could you help save lives on Devon’s beaches

PUBLISHED: 09:25 12 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:25 12 August 2020

Croyde SLSC members range from six to 66! Photo: Croyde Surf Life Saving Club

Croyde SLSC members range from six to 66! Photo: Croyde Surf Life Saving Club

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Surf Lifesaving Clubs combine fun, fitness and a love of the sea

Young members hone their paddle skills on the beach. Photo: Croyde Surf Life Saving ClubYoung members hone their paddle skills on the beach. Photo: Croyde Surf Life Saving Club

The beautiful sandy beaches of North Devon have long attracted surfers and families. The area is a hotspot for tourists in the summer months and while the incomers are an important revenue stream, some take for granted the power of the sea: underestimating its strength and getting into trouble in the water.

Fortunately for holiday-makers, North Devon is a stronghold for surf lifesaving clubs (SLSCs): charitable entities playing a significant role in helping to keep their beaches safe.

Surf lifesaving in the UK traces its roots to Bude in Cornwall. When Allan Kennedy was posted to England from Australia in the early 1950s, he visited the Cornish coast in a bid to quell his homesickness - he had been recommended the coastline for its similarities to his homeland.

An experienced surf lifesaver in his native New South Wales, Kennedy immediately spotted a problem as those tasked with beach safety were trained in still water and therefore woefully under-equipped to deal with rescues at sea. He asked Surf Life Saving Australia to provide some basic equipment and used this to train 22 local people how to safely rescue those in trouble in the sea. British surf lifesaving was born.

Paddleboards are just some of the equipment used by surf lifesavers. Photo: Croyde Surf Life Saving ClubPaddleboards are just some of the equipment used by surf lifesavers. Photo: Croyde Surf Life Saving Club

Incredibly, some 68 years later, Surf Life Saving Great Britain is is a nationwide movement with around 9,600 members. The South West’s glorious beaches and coastline mean it is an area rich in clubs affiliated to SLSGB. One of the first to establish itself in North Devon was Croyde SLSC - it now has nearly 200 members, plenty of whom get together every week to swim, train on land, row the club’s surfboat and paddle using its surfskis.

Jo Springett, Chair of the club for Croyde explains: “We’re a community club made up of people who love the ocean and want to enjoy it, and that’s our strength. It’s a brilliant way to make friends if you’re new to the area too. You don’t have to be from Croyde to join; our members come from all over this part of Devon.”

Croyde SLSC members train all year round, making full use of their beach and the sea during the warmer months. In the winter, the club largely decamps to Ilfracombe swimming pool as well as Croyde’s village hall for weekly circuit training. Members are trained to be strong swimmers who understand how to read and navigate the currents, rips and swell of the ocean. The club also trains a handful of members each year to be fully-qualified beach lifeguards.

While the fitness and sociability aspects of club membership are highly important (Croyde has its own ‘Director of Fun’), underlying it all is a dedication to promoting safety.

Youngsters can join SLSCs as Youngsters can join SLSCs as "Nippers". Photo: Croyde Surf Life Saving Club

As Jo explains: “Our members live around the beaches here, so we’re always working as an extra pair of eyes and ears when we’re in the water. At Croyde we train on what is, on its day, one of the most dangerous beaches in the UK because of its geography. Our members (and those of the other clubs around here) save lives on our beaches every year.”

Sarah Durrant of Saunton Sands SLSC paints a similar picture when it comes to the contribution members make to their community: “Actual water rescues are quite uncommon as Saunton has a very gradual beach gradient. However the beach can get very busy so we often deal with lost children, fin cuts and board collisions, weaver fish stings, fishing accidents and barbecue burns.

“In many places there is no safety cover from any organisation so the more lifesavers and lifeguards we have in the general local population, the better off we all are. Saunton is one of three clubs north of Barnstaple all doing a similar job.”

But being a member of a surf lifesaving club isn’t all about impressive water skills and enviable fitness. For their last indoor session of the winter season, Croyde SLSC members decided to turn their land training into a rave complete with neon lycra and UV lights.

As Jo concludes: “We all love the ocean and that’s what brings us together but yes, sometimes we just like to go to the pub!”

STAY SAFE ON THE BEACH

Top tips from Adrian Mayhew, National Operations and Safety Manager at SLSGB:

1. Swim at a lifeguarded beach.

2. Look for the information signs at the beach or ask a lifeguard.

3. Only swim between the red and yellow flags – these are areas deemed safe to swim in.

4. Know your limits – if unsure, stay waist depth and stay between the flags.

5. Know how to call for help: lie on your back and wave one hand.

6. If you have small, young people, keep an eye on them at all times; missing children can detract resources away from lifeguards at the water’s edge.

7. If fishing on the rocks ensure you wear a properly fitted lifejacket with crouch straps.

8. Know the tide times. Water can move quickly and cut you off from your path.

9. Keep inflatables out the water: strong tides and winds can have a catastrophic affect on them.

10. Keep away from cliff edges.

Where to find a surf lifesaving club in North Devon

1. Woolacombe - woolacombesurflifesavingclub.org

2. Croyde - croydesls.org

3. Saunton Sands - sauntonsandssurflifesavingclub.co.uk

4. Bideford Bay - bidefordbaysurflifesaving.wordpress.com

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