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From simple 'ow' to ER visit: Cape Fear precautions



Big Wave Updates

Ski patrol on the ready for when it all goes wrong

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 3 May, 2014 - With 10-foot slabs breaking across razor sharp reef and smashing into a pure rock cliff-face, Cape Fear is arguably the most dangerous break on earth. Which means a world-class safety and medical crew is imperative to making sure the event runs smoothly and our athletes are under the best care possible should something not go to plan.

Injuries and surfing go hand-in-hand. So while prevention is all but impossible, immaculate medical care is not. And our Cape Fear contestants couldn’t be in better hands than those of life-guard veteran Aaron Graham and his six-man Pro Guarding crew, made up of Australia’s best and most experiences surf medical experts.

“We’ve all got the big-wave surfing backgrounds and love surfing ourselves, so that combined with our years of life-guarding experience at beaches like Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama makes us confident we can run a safe event,” says Aaron, whose brother Kobi suffered a fractured spine at the Cape Fear break just a few years ago. “We’ve got a team of six lifeguards working from jet-skis, the rocks and the support boat with the full realm of medical gear in the channel and we’re prepared for anything.”

So they should be. Having been charged with safety and medical responsibilities for the entire Storm Surfers series and movie with Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones – to name but a few - Aaron and his crew have quite literally helped surfers survive the biggest and most dangerous waves in the world.

“Big wave safety is our specialty, so we know better than anyone what to expect and prepare for at Cape Fear,” Aaron says. But even Aaron has his apprehensions over the notorious Sydney break. “Cape Fear is the one job where our skills will be put to the test like never before,” he continues. “There are just so many variables. There’s no room for error with the rocks so close, the reef below and the sheer power of the wave. We’ve seen some horror injuries out there over the years.

“So even for our crew, the nerves will be there. We’re putting ourselves in the line of fire. We’ll be kitted out with helmets, booties and buoyancy equipment and clothing that you typically don’t need at most locations. For us, it’s like going into battle."

They've spent weeks, months even, tailoring their rescue strategy to Cape Fear. The battle lines have been drawn. “We’ll have one or two guys stationed on the rocks at any one time. We’ll have two rescue swimmers on the back of two jet-skis and the support boat, too," Aaron says.

“The support boat is prepped for our medical staff to work on an unconscious patient or someone who’s suffered serious spinal injury. “We specialise in resuscitation and spinal injury management so the competitors couldn’t be in any better hands.”

And what exactly are the worst-case scenarios at a location where its name really says it all?

“The barnacles are savage out there and can cut deep and long – and heavy bleeding isn’t good at the best of times, let alone in the water,” Aaron says. “But of course the worst case scenarios are spinal injuries and someone being knocked unconscious. They are very real dangers and that’s what we are ready for. “But if all goes to plan, we won’t be needed at all.”

Here's hoping.


Erica Valenti

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