Bondi surfer 'almost dies' after drowning swimmer panics

·4-min read

Cecile Gibert loves the ocean, however, one harrowing experience at Bondi Beach on Wednesday reminded her humans are no match for the sea.

Ms Gibert, 31, originally from France, arrived in Sydney in December 2020, after years of travelling and working as a graphic designer.

She fell in love with Bondi having felt connected to the water her whole life and she found herself immersed in the local surfing community despite never picking up a board in her life.

She told Yahoo News Australia she thought surfing would be more a more interesting form of exercise than going to the gym, and now she also uses surf boards as a canvas.

Cecile started surfing when she moved to Bondi, she now puts her art skills to use and paints designs on them. Source: Supplied/Cecile Gilbert
Cecile started surfing when she moved to Bondi, she now puts her art skills to use and paints designs on them. Source: Supplied/Cecile Gibert

On Wednesday evening, Ms Gibert was out at Bondi Beach with a friend catching some waves as the sun was coming down when she noticed a man standing in the shallow water, but quite far out.

"I just I had a feeling that something was gonna go wrong, because I knew we were on the rip," Ms Gibert told Yahoo News Australia.

On her fibreglass board, Ms Gibert paddled over to the man as he was no longer able to stand. He initially said he was okay, but just as she turned away, he called out for help.

'Time stopped' during terrifying rescue

The man immediately grabbed onto Ms Gibert as she came to his aid, almost drowning her.

She tried getting him to grab onto the board, but it couldn't support the both of them and started to sink, so she had the man get on the board, while she waded in the water.

She tried to calm him down, while trying to keep her own anxieties at bay.

"It was like the time stopped," Ms Gibert said.

Cecile moved to Bondi after travelling Australia, connecting to the surf community immediately. Source: AAP
Cecile moved to Bondi after travelling Australia, connecting to the surf community immediately. Source: AAP

"He was like, 'what shall I do?' and I was kind of panicking internally, not externally.

"I was trying to think really quickly and trying to to explain to him what to do and I wanted to tell him that he had to lay down and relax on the board, but I couldn't."

While Ms Gibert was trying to help the man, the two had floated quite far out from the shore and she started to worry the two of them were not going to make it.

Her screams for help went unheard but she was unaware her friend was safely on the sand watching this all unfold and had managed to get some help.

Two surfers eventually made their way to Ms Gibert and the man, they were able to get him back to safety as she got back on her board and caught a wave back in.

Cecile said she is grateful to be alive after she tried to rescue the man at Bondi. Source: Supplied/Cecile Gilbert
Cecile said she is grateful to be alive after she tried to rescue the man at Bondi. Source: Supplied/Cecile Gibert

Rescue was a 'lesson of humility'

Ms Gibert said the experience wasn't quite traumatic, and left her in a state of shock and exhausted, with the panic of the incident draining her energy.

However, she is so grateful both she and the man are safe and the experience taught her quite a few lessons she will likely carry for the rest of her life.

"This is a really big lesson of humility towards nature. Once again, nature is stronger than humans," she said.

Surf Living Australia said rip currents are responsible for around 21 deaths every year on Australian beaches and Ms Gibert wants everyone in the water to know how to survive being caught in one.

Cecile is urging anyone swimming in Australia to swim between the flags if possible. Source: AAP
Cecile is urging anyone swimming in Australia to swim between the flags if possible. Source: AAP

"Usually when people are caught in the rip swimmers they try to swim against the currents and this is what they shouldn't do, because they start to panic and they lose their energy and then and then they drown," she said.

Surf Lifesaving Australia says people should stay calm, seek help by raising your arm and calling out, float with the current or swim parallel to the beach or towards breaking waves to escape the current.

Ms Gibert added that the lifeguards at Bondi do an "amazing" job every day, but people need to take more responsibility while in the water, saying not swimming between the flags and ignoring signs was a problem she observed while in Bondi.

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