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11:17am 9th July 2013
One of Britain's top surfers helps rescue a family caught in a rip current off the Cornish coast.
A dad and his two teenage sons were dragged out to sea at Porthtowan on Saturday evening.
European champ Ben Skinner, along with local surfers and off-duty lifeguards, dashed into the water and helped bring them back to shore.
It was during the awards ceremony for the annual Cornish & Open surf competition at around 9pm that the call for help came.
RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor for the Carrick area Josh Ward was being awarded first place having beaten friend and European longboard champion Ben Skinner into second place.
When a passer-by raised the alarm both Josh and Ben sprung into action along with fellow RNLI lifeguards, Josh's father Martyn, Tony Clarke, and Sam Chamberlain.
Tony stayed with the family, while Sam went to the Surf Life Saving Club to get rescue equipment.
Ben, Josh and Martyn sprinted to the water's edge where they were joined by fellow RNLI lifeguard Georgia Maughn, who had been jogging on the beach.
With all of their lifeguard rescue equipment locked away for the day, the group commandeered surfing equipment from people standing on the water's edge.
In heavy four foot surf, the lifeguards and Ben commenced a search for the trio, which was made even more difficult by the glare of the low, bright sun, so they spread out.
Josh and Ben followed the current and could see the father about 300 metres from shore being supported by two local surfers. Josh and Ben made their way to him and supported him, reassuring him as he was in a state of great distress and panic about his two children.
They got him to hold onto their ankles and paddled him across the rip current and back into the beach, with help from Martyn and Georgia. They reached the shore a great distance away from where he'd gone into the water to look for his children and there was a great deal of confusion on the beach.
It transpired that unbeknown the father, two local surfers had bought the children (both boys aged around 14 and 15) back to shore. There was an extremely emotional reunion with the family who were very thankful to everyone who'd helped.
Martyn, RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor for Carrick, said:
'There were around a hundred people on the beach, enjoying the atmosphere and the climax of a thrilling surf competition. When the call for help came, it was initially hard to see past all the people on the beach, and the glare on the water meant we couldn't easily spot the casualties. Neither Josh nor Ben hesitated for a moment, and Georgia was at the water's edge before we were. We train for these sorts of situations all the time, but when the call comes, you just go. Thankfully between the trained lifeguards and experienced local surfers a family tragedy was averted.'
Falmouth Coastguard despatched the local Cliff Rescue Team and search and rescue helicopter which arrived at the beach several minutes later. An RNLI lifeboat from St Agnes was also launched, but was stood down before arriving on scene.
All three casualties were checked over by paramedics, and were said to be shaken but well.
The incident comes as much of the UK basks in a heatwave, with thousands expected to visit the country's beaches. All those heading to the coast are reminded to visit a lifeguarded beach, to always swim between the red and yellow flags, and to check the weather and tide times before setting off. If ever in doubt, speak to a lifeguard.
Dickon Berriman, RNLI lifeguard manager advices water users at Porthtowan to only go in when lifeguards are on duty. He said:
'The formation of the sand banks at Porthtowan this summer has created a strong rip current running from the southern to the northern end of the beach, which is particularly strong at mid tide. We've had a number of incidents in the last few weeks of people being caught out and pushed onto the rocks at the northern end by this rip, who have thankfully been rescued by RNLI lifeguards. We'd strongly advise anyone planning to go into the water, whether bathing, bodyboarding or surfing, to stick between the appropriate flags while the lifeguards are on duty. However when the lifeguards finish at 6pm, we'd suggest that only those experienced water users and those familiar with the beach should enter the water.'
The RNLI has also created a free 'beach finder' mobile app to help people find their nearest lifeguarded beach. It can be downloaded from www.rnli.org/beach.
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