The West

Alarming rise in surf rescues
Power of the swell: City Beach lifesaver Mike Matraszek. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

An alarming number of West Australians lack basic water skills, contributing to a rise in beach rescues and a record number of people being stopped from risking their lives in the ocean, according to Surf Life Saving WA.

SLSWA figures show lifesavers rescued 1386 people last summer - a 26 per cent rise on the summer before.

Lifesavers also stopped a record 38,337 swimmers from getting into danger, almost 6000 more than last year.

Despite 8000 extra patrol hours last lifesaving season, 17 people drowned on WA beaches, matching the record for beach deaths.

SLSWA community safety manager Chris Peck said lifesavers were coming across many people who did not know the basics of ocean safety, including how to identify a rip.

"It's not necessarily that they're not heeding the message, it's that they don't know the message," Mr Peck said. "There's a complete ignorance about going into these environments."

Mr Peck said many were migrants or their children, who had not grown up knowing the dangers of the ocean.

SLSWA is targeting council areas with high migrant populations, including the City of Wanneroo, with its safety messages.

"The cultural history is not being passed down now and it's the predominant cause of our rescues at the moment," he said.

The South West - including Yallingup and Smiths Beach - recorded the most rescues of the season over the Christmas period, followed by City Beach, where lifesavers pulled more swimmers from the water than at any other beach in the metropolitan area.

City Beach, the most patrolled of all WA beaches, also recorded the highest number of "preventive actions", where lifesavers stopped swimmers from putting themselves in danger.

"Rips are the biggest problem and there's a rip steaming up the beach on City Beach and you can pull five or six people out at a time," Mr Peck said.

City Beach lifesaver Mike Matraszek said spinal injuries were common on the beach because visitors underestimated the power of the swell.

"We get a lot of people in distress and often people see it's a sunny winter's day and don't realise how dangerous it is," he said.

SLSWA recorded its biggest membership on record last season, with 20,000 members now on its books.

The West Australian

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