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New wave of help for Surf Educators International

AN awareness night promoting Surf Educators International's Africa Project will be held at the Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club on Monday night.

The long-term project aims to provide surf safety equipment and professional lifeguard assistance to developing countries in west Africa.

The night will also be a significant stepping stone for SEI founder and former ironman Craig Riddington and project founder Cara Hammerton in their pursuit to also raise funds for the project.

"It will be a great opportunity for anyone interested in the project to come along and meet everyone in the team," Miss Hammerton said.

"We are using it as a platform to quick-start the awareness on the northern beaches about the issue and what we are trying to do over in west Africa."

As well as information on the project, the presentation will also feature a screening of award-winning film Thirty Thousand: A Surfing Odyssey from Casablanca to Cape Town.

There will also be a fundraiser auction. Special guests will include Mr Riddington, Hayden Quinn and Bruce "Hoppo" Hopkins from Bondi Rescue.

Mr Riddington said SEI intends to send a small team over to Ghana, where the project will first be established, in June or July to begin initial stages.

Craig Riddington's global plans

FORMER ironman champion Craig Riddington's surf education program is going international.

Mr Riddington has been teaching northern beaches children how to stay safe in the surf for more than 10 years - and will now take his program to Ghana. It is the brainchild of 21-year-old former Ghanaian volunteer Cara Hammerton.

"The beaches are very much like the beaches we have here in Sydney, but the issue is that no Ghanaians know anything about basic surf safety, let alone how to swim," Ms Hammerton said.

"There are no trained swim teachers, no lifeguards outside of privately owned areas and no signage informing the locals of dangerous conditions."

Ms Hammerton said she saw a number of Ghanaian locals caught in rips and other potentially deadly situations while undertaking her volunteer placement in Ghana and even witnessed a funeral for a victim of drowning.

"Drowning is accepted as normal in places like Ghana just because of a lack of education," she said.

Mr Riddington said Surf Educators International (SEI) would use its expertise in education and surf safety to take the initiative overseas.

"I know we could substantially reduce the drowning rates by massive amounts by a few simple procedures," he said.

"Australians are the experts in water safety really, so there is definitely a way we can assist there."

Ms Hammerton said having SEI on board meant they had access to the "best brains in the business".

SEI aims to raise enough money by April next year to take two paid professionals to the region to conduct a feasibility study of the coastline.

Nick Dawe, a professional lifeguard with SEI, will be one of these professionals.

"We will try to teach them the same skills that we teach Aussie kids about surviving and being comfortable in the surf - the trick will be whether we can understand their culture enough and be flexible enough to teach them effectively," he said.

Drowning waiting to happen

MORE people will drown on unpatrolled beaches unless resources are stepped up, according to Surf Educators International president Craig Riddington.

The former ironman star believes drownings are inevitable if additional lifeguards are not quickly deployed on the more isolated beaches.

Mr Riddington pinpoints Warriewood Beach as an example of a beach that leaves swimmers susceptible to drowning.

The beach is patrolled between December and February, which, Mr Riddington says, isn't good enough.

It's more of a locals' beach but these beaches still have people swimming in them," he said.

"It's usually those unmanned beaches which are not used as frequently where people drown."

Mr Riddington, whose organisation provides surf education to schools, said on occasions he has had to hire a lifeguard when educating a group of youngsters at Warriewood Beach.

The water safety expert said other stretches of the NSW coastline are more hazardous for swimmers when unmanned, but said that was in part because the northern beaches is fortunate to have people who aren't lifeguards or lifesavers that can assist.

"We are a lot more fortunate than other parts of the coast. We have a lot of good-quality water men outside of lifeguards and lifesavers, like surfers who are in the water all the time, and clubbies training all the time," he said.

- When: The beach is only patrolled from December to February 
- Who: Lifesaver volunteers from Warriewood Surf Life Saving Club patrol the beach on weekends, while there are two professional lifeguards during the week 
- Future: A spokeswoman from Pittwater Council (which controls the beach) said the council is looking at increasing resources at the beach as it gets more popular