Lifeguards at a Lake Macquarie beach have had one of their busiest starts to the year in recent memory, performing about 10 times the number of rescues they would normally conduct on an average day, late last week.
Redhead Beach lifeguards pulled 46 people from the surf on January 12 – an average of one every 11 minutes – and performed 30 rescues the following day.
The total 103 rescues at Redhead Beach in the first two weeks of this year dwarfs the four that were recorded in the first fortnight of 2017.
Across Lake Macquarie’s four patrolled beaches – Catherine Hill Bay, Caves Beach, Blacksmiths and Redhead – there have been 129 rescues in the first fortnight of 2018, more than 32 times last year’s total.
Senior lifeguard Lucas Samways told Fairfax Media the norm was somewhere between one and five rescues on a given summer’s day at the popular swimming spot.
“It was really nice on [January 12] and then the south swell kicked in and it created a lot of flash rips and a lot of strong currents pulling swimmers out of the flags and into those flash rips,” he said. “People were going beyond their depth, the limitations of what they’re capable of swimming in, that’s why they were getting into trouble.”
It’s a different story in Newcastle, where there were four rescues in the first fortnight of 2018, compared with 20 in the same period last year.
At Port Stephens, lifeguards conducted three rescues in the first two weeks of the year – about a fifth of the number recorded in the same period last year – despite an extra 20,000 people estimated at the beaches.
Port Stephens lifeguard supervisor Phil Rock said rescuers had “dodged a bullet” in his area so far. But he said the three rescues were in “relatively small surf”.
“From my experience, lot of of people seem to judge size with danger,” Mr Rock said.
“When we rescued those three people, [the surf] was probably lucky to be two foot. We just had this rip 50 to 100 metres north of the flags and it was just really, really flowing. Just because it’s small, doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.”
A hectic start to the year for lifeguards at a Lake Macquarie beach has prompted a senior lifeguard to urge people to “know a little bit about the ocean” before swimming – even if you’re going for a dip between the red and yellow flags.
With temperatures across the region expected to rise this weekend, Lucas Samways said that swimming between the red and yellow flags didn’t mean people could take risks in the water.
The Redhead Beach senior lifeguard warned that inexperienced beach-goers could be easily lured into a section of water that contained a rip.
“Where the rips are, there’s deep water and waves don’t break,” he said.
“So for someone who’s not familiar with the ocean, if they see a nice spot where there’s no waves breaking and waves either side, they’re going to choose to go where those waves aren’t breaking, which is the rip that pulls out to deeper water. It’s very important that people actually know a little bit about the ocean before they actually go swimming in it.”
This week’s giant swell came after a relatively calm first fortnight of the year at Newcastle beaches.
The Bureau of Meteorology predicted the swell, which kept most of the region’s patrolled beaches closed for the week, would continue to subside in the coming days.
“When there’s surf and it’s sunny, that’s when preventative actions are very high,” Nobbys Beach lifeguard Paul Bernard said.
“People were heeding warnings and doing the right thing [in the first fortnight of the year]. We were pretty happy with crowd behaviour and knowledge at Nobbys.”
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