Surfing Magazine

The 2016 Hawaii Big Wave Safety Summit

The BWRAG crew (Big Wave Risk Assesment Group). Photo: Jason Shibata

I’d forgotten that I actually attended the first one. The first Big Wave Safety Summit, that is, before the guys really even knew what to call it. This same time back in 2011, the same year Sion Milosky passed at Maverick’s, Danilo Couto and Kohl Christensen knew something had to change. They couldn’t let another one of their best friends die if could be helped somehow.

So with the help of Pamela Foster, R.N. and Chelsea Loui, Danilo and Kohl hosted a dozen big wave surfers at his Kaukonahua farm to learn how to properly perform CPR in an emergency situation. Guys like Jamie Sterling, Mark Healey, Ramon Navarro and quite a few other big wave heavies attended and all had valid questions. Like: If you’re a five-minute Jet Ski ride from shore and your friend’s not breathing, do you give him CPR on the Ski or risk those five minutes to get him to shore? Or, How hard can you push on the chest during compressions?

This would be the first meeting of what would become the annual Big Wave Safety Summit, since organized by the non-profit Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG) which founding members Suzi Milosky, Kohl Christensen, Danilo Couto, Jodi and Liam Wilmott, Pamela Foster and Brian Keaulana created in 2014. These guys facilitate the summits.

“After Sion passed away, Danilo came back from Mavericks and said, ‘We have to do something,’” says Kohl Christensen. “And at that point we didn’t know much about CPR or risk management, we just surfed and we didn’t give a f–k. We’d just wear boardshorts and it wasn’t really cool to wear floatation. It was a different time and that’s cool, but after several friends passed away, we realized this is f–ked, so we wanted to do something. After that first meeting in 2011 at the farm, we wanted to go a little deeper so we reached out to some people who really knew their shit. Like Brian Keaulana, who became our mentor. Brian has created a risk management program for Navy SEALs and adapted it for surfing in our course. Ultimately, the courses at the Safety Summits teach people not to be risk takers but risk technicians.”

image2-jpgTheir attentiveness here could mean a life saved elsewhere. Photo: Shibata

Indeed, what started as a group of guys gathered around a couple CPR dummies has become an impressive and essential 4-day long event this year at the Turtle Bay on the North Shore. Starting yesterday, there’s classes and workshops off and actually on the water, running through Wednesday with professional big wave surfers to recreational surfers in attendance alike.

This year, the main classes are the DAN Emergency Oxygen Provider Course, the CPR & Basic Life Support Course, the Surf Survival and BWRAG Water Training, and a High Surf Risk Management Workshop.

While registration is open to anyone interested in water safety, I wouldn’t say they’re totally beginner-classes.

“As far as being courses only for big wave surfers, that’s kind of relative because it might not be big all the time when you need this kind of knowledge,” says Kohl. “But as far as being first responders on a Ski, the courses will get you more comfortable in those rescue scenarios. Elements of the courses are definitely beneficial to everyone, or anyone that’s moderately interested in big waves or has been on a Jet Ski, but yeah, they’re not beginner courses; you probably want to have a little experience in the ocean.”

But do these courses actually work?

“Yeah, definitely. For example, the North Shore lifeguards invented a technique to pull people out of the shorebreak with neck injuries called C-Spine and we offer that in our courses. A couple years ago, Eli Olson and Kiron Jabour pulled Dennis Pang out of the shorebreak at Sunset with an injury. They used that same technique from our classes. Then this year, Trevor Carlson pulled Keoki Saguibo out in Indo using the same technique he learned at our summit. Even Carlos Burle took a class, and not long after, he saved Maya Gabeira who drowned and nearly died out at Nazare. Before that he didn’t know CPR, which he learned with us in one of our classes. So he applied compressions, which aided in her recovery.”

Yeah, I’d say these summits are working. Running through Wednesday, if you happen to be on Oahu and are remotely interested in surfing bigger waves, learning valuable rescue techniques, and being a risk technician (over risk taker), go to BWRAG’s site to register and head on over to the Turtle Bay to partake. It’s actually not too late to register. –Beau Flemister

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