WATERCOOLER: Boy's rescue brings home drama of surf safety
WHEN they pulled the little boy from the water, he could barely walk. They led him to the lifeguard station, put him on a camp chair, let his sobbing subside and monitored him to see how much liquid he might bring up.
His mum was emotional, first frustrated he'd got out of his depth, then telling lifeguards it had been too rough for her to go to his aid.
Thankfully, there were others close enough to help, and I was one of them.
No one should ever need me to be involved in a water rescue. I can barely swim a length, I try not to go further out in the water than chest height.
But the waves at Caloundra were inviting.
They were dumping in hard, breaking both left and right.
About 50 people were in the water, most looking to body surf in on the waves. It was hard to do though, as the churning water didn't seem to have any pattern.
The under current pulled me out further than I'm comfortable with.
A wave would hit, pushing me to shore and I'd be able to touch the bottom. Between waves the tow would pull me out so I had to paddle. I was working hard to stay in control, but it was great fun.
Next thing the boy, probably aged 10-12, was next to me. If I couldn't touch the bottom, he certainly couldn't.
The waves kept pounding over him, he was floating, arms down at his side. He seemed to be struggling.
"Are you OK?'' I said.
''How did I get this far out?'' he whispered.
''Do you need help?'' I said.
He mumbled something and I didn't hear the word 'yes'.
Another wave pushed him under and I said something like: ''Do you want me to help?''
He was unresponsive, though had his eyes open, and got washed under again.
I grabbed him by his rash top and lifted him up. I tried to kick towards shore but the tow was in control and I wasn't strong enough to make headway. He was limp.
Others were closer to the shore, but seemed to think things were under control.
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As a pretty average swimmer, I knew I couldn't hold him for long, so I raised my spare arm, trying to attract the attention of the lifeguards. We were between the flags.
Nothing happened. It was probably only seconds, but it felt longer. I was struggling to keep myself afloat, with one arm in the air, the other holding the boy.
Two teenage girls closer to shore called out: ''Does he need help?''
''Yes,'' I said.
Others started realising there was trouble. There were several arms in the air now, trying to alert the guards.
''Help,'' I yelled out.
The two girls reached us.
But we still couldn't move the boy far.
Then a couple of waves in a row dumped on us, and we were able to use that momentum to shove him towards shore. Two more adults joined in and they grabbed the boy and dragged him to safety.
I still couldn't touch the bottom and thrashed out on a couple of waves to touch the sand. Relief.
The lifeguards arrived and put a tube around the boy and led him out of the water.
I followed them.
The boy was shaking.
So was I.
This wasn't an isolated stretch of beach. And as a casual swimmer, I never really thought I needed to be able to do more.
Thankfully, others were there to help the young lad. People do rise to the occasion.
But it's back to the shallows for me, and the swimming lessons for my daughter will get supersized. She needs to be able to do more in that situation than I could.
* Bryce Johns is the editorial director of APN Australian Regional Media.