x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Surfers volunteer as Dubai beach lifeguards

"We know the currents, we're strong swimmers, we should do our bit", say surfers.

DUBAI // Leading surfers are to set up a voluntary lifeguard system on Dubai's beaches.

Six key members of the surfing community decided to launch the Surfers Save Lives campaign after three people drowned in separate incidents while swimming last week.

"Surfers are strong swimmers and knowledgable about currents," said Saeed al Abbar, an Emirati surfer who was at a meeting on Tuesday to discuss how the community could help with beach safety.

"We are usually in the waters surfing when conditions are bad, and we should do our bit as a community."

Scott Chambers, the founder and manager of Surf Dubai, said: "This is not exclusively for surfers. Anybody who wants to learn a bit more about typical currents, or what to do if they are caught in rip currents, can come along."

Surfers will also receive lifesaving training on how to help swimmers who get into difficulties. "In the event of a surfer being in the water when a swimmer is in distress, we want to show them how to use their boards to get the swimmer to safety," Mr Chambers said.

"We are joining forces with institutes and lifeguard training institutes to provide unique content that is specific to Dubai."

The group will distribute thousands of flyers to beachgoers, educational institutes and the community in general to raise awareness about the swimming campaign.

The Surfers Save Lives training will take place for a few hours on two separate days. Organisers say they hope it will encourage surfers to take professional lifeguard training and obtain international qualifications.

There will also be a public meeting this month to involve the community and examine ways to enhance beach safety.

The surfing community also plans to compile a database of internationally qualified beach lifeguards, and to offer assistance to authorities to protect swimmers when seas are rough.

Dubai Municipality officials welcomed the initiative but warned that solutions were not easy.

"We are open to ideas from the public, but if it's not under our control, it could be difficult," said Ibrahim Mohammed Juma, the head of the Coastal Engineering, Coastal Zone and Waterway Management Section at Dubai Municipality.

"We are open to all initiatives, but the surfers are not a government body," Mr Juma said.

He said that because they were volunteering their services there was no guarantee that they would be available at all times.

"There might be severe weather conditions, for example, when we need a certain number of volunteers on the beaches," he said. "How can we be sure that they will be present?"

He said repeated warnings from inspectors and the Coastal Rescue Police against swimming in rough weather often went unheeded.

"We try to raise awareness," he said, "but some people do not obey instructions."

Two British nationals - a resident and a tourist - and an Indian bus driver died last Friday after they went swimming in rough seas.

British tourist Martin Hayle and Dubai resident Paul Gradon, both aged 50, drowned off the JBR Open Beach, and Haja Mohammed Ismailuddin, 26, died while swimming at the Umm Suqeim 1 Beach.

Gradon, a business development manager at Dolphin Radiators and Cooling Systems in Sharjah, drowned when he went swimming with a friend. Ismailuddin was out on a fun trip with six friends when he was caught in strong currents.