VIGILANT: Gaz Morgan from Style Surf school surveys Clarkes Beach.
VIGILANT: Gaz Morgan from Style Surf school surveys Clarkes Beach. Megan Kinninment

Surf safety signs not ready

AFTER Irish tourist Stuart Butler tragically drowned in heavy seas at Tallow Beach last year, Byron Shire councillor Paul Spooner pushed for the council to do more to educate tourists about local beach safety.

In August 2014, the council voted in support of Cr Spooner's proposal to install 40 new signs along the shire's beaches, at a cost of $16,000.

Months later, none of the new signs have been installed.

"It is frustrating," Cr Spooner said.

"I would have like to have seen the signs installed before the summer holiday season."

While the design for the new signs is understood to have been finalised, they are yet to be manufactured, he said.

The council will likely revisit the issue of beach signage with the State Coroner this week recommending the council install signs that are updated daily with current information about surf conditions at Tallow Beach.

The coroner noted the beach was notoriously dangerous in certain conditions, and had Mr Butler and his companions received warnings of dangerous seas, they may not have entered the water and risked their lives that day.

Tallow Beach is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the coroner's findings will be discussed with the council. "NPWS will work with the council to look at the most practical way to improve safety at Tallow Beach," the spokesperson said.

Tallow Beach was named as a dangerous "black spot" by Surf Life Saving NSW in a 2013 risk audit report of beaches along the NSW coast.

 

Daily surf report is a guide only

BY 9am every morning close to 100 surfers, backpackers and hostels in Byron receive an email from one of the Bay's most experienced surfers.

Gaz Morgan, 48, has been surfing for 40 years and his detailed morning surf report will often determine whether locals paddle out or not.

The daily report is based on Gaz's early morning observations of Byron Bay's beaches as well as information gleaned from official weather sources such as the Bureau of Meteorology.

He has been sending out his surf reports for close to two decades - starting by fax, later by email - but while he has decades of experience of local conditions, he is not one to take risks in the water - even if it costs him money.

Yesterday he cancelled lessons for his surf school, Style Surf because he felt conditions were not safe enough for his students.

"There was too much of a sweeping current and I didn't feel it was user-friendly for lessons," he said.

"I care about people's personal safety and I won't risk it."

Mr Morgan, like so many local surfers, has been moved by the drowning last year of Irish tourist, 20-year-old Stuart Butler in dangerous surf conditions at Tallow Beach.

The State Coroner's recommendation this week that weather alerts and updates be communicated to tourists by local accommodation providers is welcomed by Mr Morgan, however he has his own warning to add.

"The ocean can change quickly; what looked good in the morning can be dangerous a couple of hours later," he said.

"All I can do is put my reports out there and hope that local hostels and backpackers print them out for guests - but it is still always up to the individual to check and ask questions.

"If you are new to a place or don't know the local waves, ask someone.

"When I go to the snow I don't just take off down a mountain without checking with locals first.

"It's the same for those who are new to our beaches. Always check first."


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