My children love Nippers. Every Sunday morning during the summer they learn more about staying safe at the beach thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, of all ages, who support our local surf lifesaving club.*
It is important, living where we do, minutes from the beach, that my daughters are accomplished swimmers and surf savvy. They have lessons in the pool too in an effort to keep them safe and healthy. Drownings are far too prevalent in our nation with 284 deaths in 2011/12. Recently, a ’25 per cent jump in drowning deaths since 2008 for people aged 15-24′ has been highlighted and there are fears that this will increase as 1 in 5 students finish primary school unable to swim. Schools have a responsibility to educate about water safety, including swimming programs but the ultimate responsibility must be taken by parents. We are responsible for shaping culture and transmitting to our children the very best of tradition while reforming what needs changing.
What needs to change?
Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. It is recommended that one should consider the peak UV times 10am – 3pm when planning outdoor activities. However, this is when most Australians are at the beach. Local councils organise for beaches to be patrolled by lifeguards during the summer, especially the school holidays. The iconic ‘flags’ Australians swim between operate from 9.00-5.00pm, with minor variations. Often, especially on weekends, when the surf clubs patrol, the flags go up at 10am.
Like most Australians, of my vintage, I peeled from sunburn at least twice each summer. We were outside all day every day of the summer holidays, often fishing or at the beach, playing cricket or tennis. I could not name a brand of sunscreen from those days. Nowadays, the kids and I are often at the beach by 8am, swim for 2 hours and head home. Sometimes we head to the local rockpool in the afternoon, after school around 4pm. The kids usually bodyboard before Nippers, which, at our club, is usually finished by 11am.
‘The Beach’ is a defining part of Australian culture but one suspects we may need to adapt and change to keep children safe and our community healthy. We now have excellent data about drownings and skin cancer but are not necessarily making changes to our lifestyle. Has the time come to change when beaches are patrolled or is this likely to lead to more drownings? How do we encourage a cultural shift that encourages people to be out of the sun between noon and 3.00pm?
What do you think?
*Readers unfamiliar with Australian surf lifesaving may find the wikipedia entry useful.