Freddie Watson (23) said Jersey’s surfing community would always be on hand to assist people in trouble in the sea. And he urged anyone feeling out of their comfort zone – particularly when so many people have taken up sea sports during the pandemic – not to be afraid to ask for help.
He said that during the summer when lifeguards were on duty on Jersey’s beaches raising your arm in the air and making a fist was seen as a universal signal that you needed help, but at other times simply waving your arms to attract the attention of other surfers would convey that too.
‘I want to get the message across that if people go out surfing and they find themselves out of their comfort zone then any surfer will help them, it is just important that they ask for help,’ he said.
‘So many people have bought wetsuits and surfboards because everyone is at home at the moment, and lots of people are surfing in the winter conditions when it is stronger and colder.’
Mr Watson, who has been surfing since he was eight, and another man, who he does not know, had been out surfing in St Ouen’s Bay on Saturday morning. Conditions, which had initially been good, began to deteriorate quickly and they noticed a trio of beginners in trouble between Le Braye and El Tico.
The pair paddled over to them and although Mr Watson said they initially did not seem to want help, it soon became clear that they were struggling to cope with the conditions – which at one point included a set of 15ft waves.
‘The waves got significantly bigger and the current got really strong,’ Mr Watson said. ‘We could both cope with it as we were experienced surfers but we noticed these three in a bit of trouble. They were getting pulled out to sea.’
It also became clear the novice surfers were not wearing the correct winter gear for the conditions and were tiring quickly. Mr Watson and the other man tried to lead them back to Le Braye but the current was too strong for the beginners – two women and one man – so the group went back out to where the waves were not breaking to wait for a lull.
Two of the group held on to Mr Watson’s leash, but a set of 15ft waves took out the other man who had gone to help and the surfer he was supporting, snapping her leash and leading to him losing his board too.
Mr Watson eventually managed to lead his group to the beach, before paddling back out to help the man, who by this point was holding the exhausted woman up to keep her head out of the water. The pair pulled the woman on to Mr Watson’s surfboard and were able to get back to the beach in front of the Line Up café safely and an ambulance was called.
According to the emergency services, two of the group were taken to hospital, both suffering from shock and one from hypothermia. However, reports that the group who got into trouble included experienced surfers were inaccurate, Mr Watson said.
‘Anyone out there would have done the same,’ said Mr Watson of going to help the group. ‘But it is about making sure that the message gets across that it happens and people will go out and find themselves out of their comfort zone, but to ask for help.’