With a sizable swell hammering the west coast of England, in recent days surfers have stepped in to make the ocean a little bit safer. As COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in the UK last week, unfortunately, professional lifeguards have yet to return to the beaches. That left surfers and volunteers putting their experiences to good use.
Last weekend, when the lifting of the travel and exercise restrictions coincided with a solid run of swell, sunny weather and a bank holiday, we reported that many UK surfers were raising the alarm. With the normal lifeguard service, run in the UK by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RLNI), running on skeleton staff, local surfers said the chances of dangerous incidents were high.
Unfortunately, many of the surfers' worst fears have now been realized. Over the weekend there were two confirmed drowning deaths, and a third person was in a serious condition in hospital, after a string of separate incidents occurred in quick succession along the Cornish coast.
The RNLI have stated that all their lifeguards haven't been able to return to work safely given COVID-19. As such they will operate at only seven of Cornwall's many beaches this coming weekend. In their absence, off-duty lifeguards, local surf club members and surfers have called themselves into action. These volunteers groups, chronicled under #returntoshore, have been performing rescues up and down the English coast and saving lives.
Carve magazine have reported on Twitter of four children being rescued in Sennen and another mass rescue of ten swimmers in Bantham. In Porthtowan a crew of surfers and ex-lifeguards saved more lives. There is undoubtedly more unreported cases of rescues.
Following the deaths of five surfers in Denmark at the start of the month, the loss of life in European surf spots has been another tragic aspect occurring at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic. With the sunny weather and waves set to continue in England, the surfers and volunteers expect to remain on high alert.