Big Wave Safety Summit

Captions by Danilo Couto

 
It began a couple years ago as a CPR class. Sion Milosky had passed a few months prior and Kohl Christensen and Danilo Couto knew it was time to make big-wave surfing safer. In a barn on Kohl’s North Shore property, they held the class and a couple dozen big-wave surfers left feeling more prepared than ever before. Last year, it expanded. They held an all day event at Turtle Bay and in addition to CPR, they learned rescue theory and had a chance to test it out in the water. This year, it grew even more. The two day event saw 60 surfers — including guys like John John Florence, Nic Lamb and Ben Wilkinson — spend a full day in the classroom and a full day in the water. With North Shore waters like a still pond and Kirk Passmore’s death fresh on everyone’s minds, legendary waterman Brian Keaulana had his students’ full attention. And when class was dismissed on Wednesday evening, it was no exaggeration to say that the big-wave community is a whole lot safer.

Kohl Christensen, who spearheaded the event along with Danilo Couto, takes us through the 2013 Big Wave Safety Summit in Memory of Sion Milosky. —Taylor Paul

KOHL: CPR can be intimidating when you’ve only taken a course once, because they are always adjusting the theory. You’re like, “Am I doing it right? Was I supposed to do breaths or compressions?” But our CPR teacher, Pamela Foster, really simplified it to be all about compressions. So she made it easy and everyone got it. It was especially good for the young kids, like John John and Nate Florence and their whole crew. It was rad that they came. And it was funny because we were in the classroom for almost nine hours and those kids sat still — they were pretty much captivated the whole time. It could have gone south with bad teachers, but between Brian Keaulana and Pamela just kept us all glued to them.

One of the things we did were “scenario breakdowns.” We’d split into groups and Brian would come to each one and create a scenario at a certain surf spot. And the groups would work together on a prevention plan and figure out the steps we’d take to solve the problem if things went wrong. That exercise really produced a sense of risk management between everyone. It was great to talk things through and throw ideas out there.

What Brian was really encouraging us to do, before we go out and surf big waves, is to just take a step back the night before and look at the big picture. Look at the break, look at the current, look at the reefs, look at what tools you have to manage the risk. And also to coordinate with other surfers that are going out. Forget the cliques or whatever. Surfing’s such an individual sport, but this event has brought a bunch of individual people and their egos together and made them feel like a team.

The next day we worked through some real-life scenarios in the water: Unconscious victim pick up on the Ski by yourself, unconscious victim pick up on the Ski with a guy on the sled, pickups for conscious victims with a board and without a board, etc. Answering questions like where do you put the board on the Ski, whether or not to take the leash off, stuff like that.

It was great to just open up the dialogue and establish a preparation mentality, especially for the younger kids. Some of them have Skis but they don’t have that mindset to prepare. I think the course helped them realize that there’s a lot more to it than paddling out. Let’s prepare and get our shit together. Let’s not all just paddle out. Let’s go out with one Ski and all know how to drive the ski and trade off.

In reflecting on real-life scenarios [like Greg Long at Cortes Bank or Maya Gabeira at Nazare], Brian stayed away from any finger pointing or shoulda-coulda-wouldas. Instead, he focused on, “Look, Carlos Burle did something and now Maya’s still breathing.” Rather than focus on whether or not the technique of the rescue was perfect. And Carlos did CPR on Maya and that was CPR that he’d learned here at this summit last year. You know? He did something and it saved her life.

And that’s the thing, there’s no concrete right way. Every situation is different. Every break is different. The idea is to gain some skills, practice those skills, and then when the situation does go down, do something. And if you try and you fail for whatever reason, at least you can look back and know you were prepared and did everything you could.

SURFING would like to say thanks Kohl, Danilo, and Jodi and Liam Wilmott for putting this event together. And also to the Hawaiian Tourism Authority and Billabong for sponsoring this event so that the surfers could attend without charge. Stay tuned for an informational video from the event that will launch exclusively on surfingmagazine.com.