Valpo Surf Project
Encuentro con el Mar
This past July, Will and Carla took part in a surf safety course hosted by Water(wo)man Chile, an organization dedicated to the promotion of aquatic safety. As part of their ambassadors program, they, along with representatives from surf schools and other nonprofits, learned the theory and practice of surf rescue techniques, water safety, and CPR over the course of two days. Water(wo)man created this ambassador program to build a network of educators dedicated to the proliferation of water sport and safety throughout Chile, with a particular focus on the prevention of drowning. We, as ambassadors, then began to conceptualize a course for our students that would engage and educate them in order to make our surf sessions even safer, calling it “Encuentro con El Mar.”
Our first encounter, so to speak, took place in late October with the younger half of our students working with Gonzalo, Rodrigo, and João from Water(wo)man. During our regular surf programming, we only work with two or three cerros at a time, so it was wild to have students and families from all four of our communities come together in support of water safety education. The day began with our standard change into wetsuits and transitioned into a series of water games to get everybody energized. As always, we jumped around in our wetsuits and made each other laugh before getting down to business.
The course began with a general overview of water safety issues and a focus on prevention, rather than reaction. Most drownings, in bodies of water big, small, salty, and fresh, are the result of easily preventable mistakes, so it was key for us to emphasize prevention first. The team from Water(wo)man provided a lot of key insight in this respect, having witnessed these mistakes take place throughout their years of experience in the field. As is often the case in educational settings, our kids were eager to work with the material in a hands-on way, screaming with joy as we commenced the CPR section of the course.
In small groups, we covered the basic, universal rules of CPR before allowing them to practice the techniques on official manikins. They struggled with the pacing of the process at first, but, after learning to sing The Bee Gee’s hit, “Stayin’ Alive,” took to it with ease. Most were surprised by how tired their arms were after only a few minutes of practice, but fought through the fatigue to, hypothetically, save the lives of their victims.
Our students then took their new found skills to the water. With the help of Water(wo)man instructors, VSP staff and volunteers, the students practiced deep and shallow water rescues with and without surfboards. They had a blast pulling their friends and fellow participants out of the water and safely onto shore. It was awe inspiring to see our 8-12 year olds take the process so seriously and learn so much from each other.
We wrapped up the day with a beach clean. Parents and students alike, put on gloves and helped pick up trash littered throughout the shoreline. Two of our students, and motivated surfers, even hopped on a surfboard and picked up trash floating in the ocean.
In early November we held a second event with our older students, ages 13-17. The course covered the same material, but more in-depth. By the end of the day, our older students were easily performing CPR and water rescue techniques. We also finished our second event with a beach clean, picking up many cigarette butts and left behind plastic materials. Each event took place at a beach in Valparaíso (a first for the the Water(wo)man crew!). We were happy to be able to connect and give back to the beaches in our own backyard.
We would like to give a big thank you to our wonderful friends at Water(wo)man for giving our students the tools to safely address any challenge they might face in the water. Water safety is essential to our programming and we are thrilled our students have a better understanding of what it entails. We’re especially looking forward to a safe and fun summer of surf!