Understanding surf dangers: Coroner Jeff Linden (front) visits the site where Carole and Joseph Sherry drowned at South Ballina Beach in January while rescuing their children, before presiding over the coronial inquest into their deaths at the Ballina Court House.
Understanding surf dangers: Coroner Jeff Linden (front) visits the site where Carole and Joseph Sherry drowned at South Ballina Beach in January while rescuing their children, before presiding over the coronial inquest into their deaths at the Ballina Court House. Jerad Williams

Kids' reminder of surf dangers

THE first television appearance on Sunday night by the children of Joe and Carole Sherry, who drowned at South Ballina Beach in January, was a stark reminder of the dangers on our beaches.

Elise and Nicholas Sherry spoke out about their ordeal on 60 Minutes.

“We were from the Western Suburbs and coming out there was just, you know, a bit of fun ... we had no idea of the consequences and how severe they can be,” Elise Sherry told the program.

The devastating consequences for the Sherry family have reignited the debate about the need for better surf safety education in Australia.

Former Ironman and surf lifesaving champion Craig Riddington, now president of Surf Educators International, believes the dramatic rise in beach drownings is the result of changing demographics and lifestyles within Australia.

“Last financial year there were 314 drownings in Australia, up 12 per cent on the five-year average,” he said.

“Traditionally almost all Australian children were taught to swim and most lived near the beach where, from an early age, they learnt from their community how to understand the surf.

“Australia’s demographics and lifestyles are changing and it appears that the so-called natural surf culture and understanding of the surf environment has not been passed on to new generations.”

Following the spike in drownings in recent years, Australia’s peak body for coastal safety, Surf Life Saving NSW, has embarked on a three-year project in conjunction with the University of NSW to educate the public on the dangers of rip currents.

“We’re working with water safety experts, lifeguard services and our surf clubs to get the message to as many members of the public as we can,” operations manager Matt Rodwell said.

He believes the key to averting more tragedies is to teach people how to avoid rip currents altogether, and the best way to do that is to swim between the red and yellow flags.

But if swimmers find themselves caught in a rip, Mr Rodwell says the first thing to do is stay calm, float and attract attention.

Should no help be available, the best way to escape the rip is to swim parallel to the beach conserving energy and allowing the waves to assist you back to the beach.

For more information on rip currents and other beach safety tips visit www.beachsafe.org.au


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