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Bond researchers pilot new Surf Safety Index

Bond University researchers are moving closer towards developing a surf safety index for use by Surf Lifesaving Australia, hitting the beaches during this summer’s competition season to collect data on surf conditions and competitor abilities.

The data will serve to validate the model, which will offset real-time surf hazard ratings against competitor skill levels to provide a numerical risk value that will enable competition organisers to assess whether competition should proceed

Since 1996, three young Surf Life Savers have lost their lives competing in different events at the Australian National SLSA Championships at Kurrawa Beach in Queensland.

Following Matthew Barclay’s tragic death last summer, long-time SLSA member and former Australian title winner, Bond University’s Gary McCoy – an economics and statistics expert – phoned colleague and fellow SLSA member Emeritus Professor Neville de Mestre, and said “we have to do something to help”.

With more than 100 years’ surf lifesaving experience between them, they combined their extensive knowledge of beach and surf conditions with their mathematical expertise to create a practically-based surf safety index.

“It’s a metric model that takes into account existing surf hazards on a beach at a given time and the experience levels of the various categories of competitors that are scheduled to compete there,” said Chief Investigator, Gary McCoy.

“Hazards include things such as wave height, type and period, surf zone length, surface turbulence, littoral drift, rip movement and other man-made or natural obstructions such as rocks, reefs, water pollution, sun glare or uncontrolled surf craft.”

Mr McCoy said the difficulty for SLSA in the past has been balancing competing views from officials, competitors and team coaches – each with their own opinions on beach conditions and acceptable risk.

“Opinions, by their very nature, are subjective. This model seeks to quantify surf safety around a number of parameters to deliver a clear-cut surf safety rating that will enable the SLSA to make judgements on venue-risk for competitors.”

He said the feedback on the model to date has been very positive.

“We have gone through a process of fine-tuning the model, with input from more than 30 surf lifesaving experts, including senior competitors and team coaches, and we are now embarking on the validation stage.

“Funding in the form of a Bond University Vice Chancellor’s research grant has enabled us to travel to various surf carnivals since the commencement of the competition season last month, and to train official surf observers in the model, to ensure consistency in assessing and reporting surf hazards,” he said.

Mr McCoy said SLSA were supportive of the project and would be sharing data from their own databases to assist in the model validation. He said they had expressed interest in extending this model so that it could be applied not only to organised surf competitions, but also to regular beach patrols.

The independent, academic study is being led by Bond University’s Senior Teaching Fellow Gary McCoy, under the supervision of Professor Kuldeep Kumar, with the assistance of Emeritus Professor Neville De Mestre and Associate Professor Stephen Holden.

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