17 December 2018

Are we doing enough to teach our kids swimming survival skills in Canberra?

| Tim Gavel
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South Coast Surf Life Saving Branch at work in the ACT. Photo: Supplied.

South Coast Surf Life Saving Branch contributing to saving Canberra children’s lives by running Nipper programs in the ACT. Photos: Supplied.

The sight of high school students in Canberra struggling to swim 50 metres at school swimming carnivals sends a chill up the spine. As we head towards the summer holidays, the thought of long days at the beach is very appealing. But the image of the kids who have little idea in the swimming pool then heading to the surf on the South Coast is always distressing.

Statistics provide a reality check with Canberrans making up over 80 per cent of all rescues on the South Coast every summer. And those from Canberra represent the largest percentage of drownings recorded on South Coast beaches.

At the very least, learn-to-swim classes should be part of the curriculum in every Canberra primary and high school until the kids can actually swim. This should be fully funded by the ACT Government.

Furthermore, once the kids learn how to swim in pools, they should then undertake swimming survival skills to prepare them for different conditions in the surf.

The excuse that Canberra is too far away from the beach and therefore impossible to undertake surf survival skills doesn’t hold water, particularly when we have an award-winning program on our doorstep.

The Canberra/Broulee Nippers Program currently has 130 kids between the ages of seven and 14 years, while a new Canberra Nippers Club, which is aligned with the Mollymook Surf Life Saving Club has 60 taking part.

Mollymook Surf Life Saving Club working with the Canberra-based Nippers. Photo: Supplied.

Mollymook Surf Life Saving Club Nippers in the ACT.

The programs are the brainchild of Canberra mother, Bethany Williams, who grew up in Broulee next to the surf club.

She felt kids from the ACT were at a disadvantage because they didn’t have access to nippers. She says, “They haven’t had the opportunity to learn about rips, about the importance of swimming between the flags, and many kids have never been on a board before.”

Rips contributed to 55 per cent of coastal drownings in the last 12 months.

Bethany started the Canberra Nippers program in 2016. She recalls: “It was because of my own kids that I had the determination to create programs in Canberra. When my kids reached the age that they would go to the beach and go too far in the surf, I decided it was time for them to do Nippers.”

Many Canberra families don’t want to travel to the coast all the time from October onwards, so bringing Nippers to Canberra was the only option.

Kids learn beach survival skills, first aid, resuscitation training, board paddling and so forth at the Canberra Olympic Pool then head to Broulee and Mollymook for further training.

From the age of 13 years, they are invited to complete their Surf Rescue Certificate, similar to the bronze medallion, and they can then start beach patrols. There is also the opportunity for parents to do their bronze medallion and become involved in surf lifesaving.

Bethany is rightly proud of the success of her programs, which have won the Canberra Sports Award for Innovation in the ACT and the Surf Life Saving NSW Award of Excellence for the Community Education Program of the Year in 2018.

Canberra Nippers are working with the South Coast Surf Life Saving Branch to start incorporating school education sessions in the ACT. This year, the South Coast branch is funding a school education session for 650 kids. The Mollymook SLSC has donated $6,000 worth of gear and equipment to help teach surf skills to the kids of Canberra.

At the moment it would appear as though the South Coast clubs are doing all they can to prepare Canberrans for the surf. But Bethany is very forthright in her belief that more needs to be done by the government in Canberra. “We need the ACT Government to help fund these programs. The clubs down the coast shouldn’t have to pay for the ACT kids surf life-saving education. I would like to see the ACT Government get on board with the surf life-saving component of water safety and survival education for all ACT kids.”

She has a point.

Shouldn’t we as a community be doing more to ensure our kids are better prepared for the surf?

At the very least we should be teaching them how to swim.

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