Half a million surf students later, Wayne Hudson calls on diocese to reassess ban

Surprised: Surf school operator Wayne Hudson says he was surprised to learn the Diocese of Lismore had placed a ban on school surfing and surf-related activities. Photo: Ivan Sajko
Surprised: Surf school operator Wayne Hudson says he was surprised to learn the Diocese of Lismore had placed a ban on school surfing and surf-related activities. Photo: Ivan Sajko

In 15 years of operation, Port Macquarie Surf School's Wayne Hudson estimates he has put as many as half a million students into the water for school surfing and surf education programs.

His business, he says, relies on risk assessment and risk management procedures.

Prior to each class entering the water, his risk assessment runs to a 65-point checklist. 

Mr Hudson said it was 'a big surprise' when he learned the Diocese of Lismore was placing a ban on Catholic school students joining open water surfing or surf-related activities where beaches did not have shark netting or drumlines.

"I understand that the Diocese is in the process of evaluating the decision," Mr Hudson said.

"I just hope they reassess it (the ban) and look at the facts and figures and work out a common sense approach where all the kids are safe and happy.

"Our business focus is based on students getting educated (about water safety awareness) and being safe in the water.

"Port Macquarie is a coastline climate. The majority of kids surf, bodyboard or swim. I believe you need to be out there participating, learning and being educated and having fun (in the water)."

Mr Hudson said 'there are obviously sharks in the water' but not any more sharks than 20 years ago.

"I actually see less sharks now than ever before," he added.

The surf school operator spends as much as 12 hours a day in the water and runs through the full gamut of risk assessment and safety measures with each class.

I believe that practical experience is more than important and more beneficial, in relation to learning surf awareness and surf education.

Wayne Hudson

He modifies each activity depending on the outcome of that risk assessment.

"I have a checklist of 65 things to cover off, including blue bottles, rips, currents, size of the swell, marine life activity right through to the competency of each student for the task we are doing.

"We minimise the risk factors.

"I believe that practical experience is more important and more beneficial, in relation to learning surf awareness and surf education.

"You can't teach surf awareness in the classroom."

St Agnes Parish's secondary school principals will meet on February 22 where the ban on school surfing and surf-related activities will be discussed.

According to the Royal Life Saving national drowning report 2017, 291 people drowned in Australian waterways from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.

Of that figure, some 23 percent drowned in river/creek/streams; 17 percent at beaches and 16 percent in ocean/harbours.

NSW accounted for 93 drownings, Queensland 73 and Victoria 45 with Western Australia 42.

Graph courtesy Royal Life Saving 2017 drowning report.

Graph courtesy Royal Life Saving 2017 drowning report.

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