As the big wave surfing season is underway in the Northern Hemisphere, Patagonia recently launched a new film about safety in big wave surfing titled, Connected by Water – The Story Behind the Big Wave Safety Movement. Its importance is for all water users, not just big wave surfers. Would you know what to do if you saw someone in trouble in the water?
The loss of surfer Sion Milosky at Mavericks in 2011 left the big wave surfing community reeling from the loss of another talented surfer. It was a wake-up call. Big wave surfing was advancing faster than safety protocols, and something had to change. Later that year, a group of surfers led by Kohl Christensen and Danilo Couto gathered in Kohl’s barn on the North Shore of Oʻahu and held a CPR course taught by a veteran emergency room nurse. This was the first unofficial meeting of the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG). The following year, BWRAG held its first public summit at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, expanding its teachings from CPR to first aid, water rescue skills and more.
A couple of years later, veteran Hawaiian lifeguard, surfer and ocean risk specialist Brian Keaulana joined BWRAG, bringing with him decades of ocean safety knowledge that substantially expanded BWRAG’s training offerings. Over the next decade, BWRAG evolved into an international gold standard, holding summits all over the world that covered ocean risk management, CPR and AED training, first-aid medical intervention, spot analysis, mindful breathing and energy management, emergency action planning and water rescue, taught by some of the world’s best emergency response-trained big wave surfers and ocean technicians.
BWRAG recently expanded its curriculum to apply to surfers of all levels, for conditions “from 2-20 feet.” Drawing on their experiences not just in ocean safety but as lifelong surfers, the team recognised that some of the worst surfing accidents happen in the least threatening conditions. The course now aims to empower any ocean goers to become a Surf Responder, armed with the knowledge to mitigate their risk and be an asset in an emergency.