x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Surfers to be trained as beach life savers following drownings

Beachgoers are also calling for signboards showing how to best deal with currents, following the drownings of three people off Dubai last month.

Jumeirah Beach Residences beach in Dubai, close to where three people drowned last month.
Jumeirah Beach Residences beach in Dubai, close to where three people drowned last month.

DUBAI // A surfing institute in Dubai is training more surfers in emergency life-saving skills after three people drowned off Dubai last month.

Surf Dubai is this weekend training at least 10 surfers who wish to become instructors in rescue and first-aid techniques as part of its attempts to make beaches safer.

Surfers and beachgoers have also called for signboards with diagrams and tips on how to tackle currents.

The International Surfing Association (ISA) level one certification course, which the institute runs regularly, has been tailored to focus on emergency responses.

Surf Dubai will add a community angle to the course to raise the awareness of those who use the beaches and waters less often. "We are training surfers to be instructors based on international standards," said Scott Chambers, the head of Surf Dubai. "However, given the recent situation, we are going to have a big focus on the community aspect and encourage more responsible beachgoers. The course is intended to build on rescue techniques [and] first-aid training."

The two-day intensive training regimen comprises theory and practical training, and will run for eight hours each day at Umm Suqeim 1 Beach, also known as Sunset Beach.

"They will learn how to be help swimmers in trouble, get basic training on how to respond when swimmers are conscious or unconscious, and essentially how to get them back safely to shore," Mr Chambers said.

"We are putting more weight behind emergency response this year so they can help people in distress."

Surfers will have to undergo a certified lifeguard's course, which will allow them to qualify as instructors who can work independently or with the ISA.

Mr Chambers said a vast majority of beachgoers and swimmers lacked a basic knowledge of currents. The uninitiated can get caught in rip currents and the long shore drift that moves parallel to the beach.

"We have to explain everything about the parts of the current, what to do with it," he said. "It is not common knowledge here because of the lack of education. Swimmers should remember not to panic, go with the current and paddle to either the left or right. They should not fight the current but go with it, as these currents move in cycles.

"Imagine if the people who drowned had only known that all they had to do was stay afloat and breathe and 15 minutes later, they would be back with their friends on the beach."

Municipality officials said they had heard the call for more beach safety warnings. Authorities are working "to install additional beach signboards with exclusive instructions for swimmers at selected beaches", said Ibrahim Mohammed Juma, the head of the municipality's coastal engineering unit.

Mr Chambers said signboards in different languages, including basic instructions on managing currents with diagrams, would help to boost public awareness. Those close to recent drowning victims echoed his views.

"If there had been signs instructing us how to tackle such currents, we would have perhaps not lost our friend," said Rafi Jhani, 27, whose friend Haja Mohammed Ismailudin, died last month at Sunset Beach.

"People who go to swim will read these instructions and know how to respond. When the currents started dragging us in we started panicking, despite being good swimmers. It would have been useful to have known that the currents move in cycles and we would have ended up at the beach if we had stayed calm."

Mr Jhani, who nearly drowned trying to save Mr Mohammed, said that he had not returned to the beach since the death of his friend.

"I don't think I will ever go back," he said. "I still remember the incident so clearly."