Double drowning brings warning on surfboard risk

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The Independent Online

Inexperienced bodyboarders are risking their lives by taking up the sport without appreciating its dangers, experts warned yesterday after a father and son drowned off the coast of Cornwall.

Inexperienced bodyboarders are risking their lives by taking up the sport without appreciating its dangers, experts warned yesterday after a father and son drowned off the coast of Cornwall.

In the past few years bodyboarding has boomed, with holidaymakers attracted to a cheaper and easier, but equally exciting, version of surfing. In the latest incident, the 50-year-old and his son, 21, were trapped in a rip tide, washed out to sea and killed while the mother waited at a nearby holiday camp.

Yesterday, her sister travelled from the family home in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, to help her to identify her husband and son.

The two men, who were staying at the Trevornick Holiday Park, Newquay, had gone down to Holywell Bay to bodysurf on Thursday evening. They got into trouble and drowned only minutes after lifeguards, who police the beach until 6pm, had left.

Locals said the true tragedy of the accident was that the rip tide that caught the holidaymakers could easily have been escaped with the right knowledge. "The conditions weren't treacherous. A simple tip could have saved their lives," said Rob Barber, the coach to Britain's bodyboarding and surfing teams.

Andrew Griffin, British junior surfing champion, was among a number of people in the water that evening but a combination of blindingly low sunlight and choppy waters meant they were unaware that the men were in difficulty and a strong northerly wind prevented them hearing any cries for help.

Mr Griffin's brother Lee, senior lifeguard at Holywell Bay, said: "It is a moderate risk beach. But if you don't know what you are doing and are inexperienced it could be dangerous and unfortunately for the people yesterday at high tide it was the worst conditions of the day.

"In the last year people who have never been surfing before have more than ever been coming down here for surfing holidays and many are totally inexperienced. It is like an inexperienced person going on to a difficult ski run after-hours when there is nobody about."

A passer-by noticed the men were in trouble and ran 300 metres to a telephone in the village, unaware there was a call box near by. By the time the Newquay lifeboat and coastguards arrived, a mere eight minutes later, the two men were floating face down.

Chris Townrow, deputy station officer at Newquay coastguard, said: "This is an absolute tragedy and so sad. We did our very best but unfortunately we were not successful."

A Royal Navy Sea King helicopter flew the men to Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske, where they were certified dead upon arrival.

Across the world, many inexperienced bodyboarders fall prey to rip tides ­ strong rivers of water that carry swimmers back out to sea.

Mr Barber said: "Rip currents aren't difficult to escape from in Britain as long as you keep your cool and focus on a stationary point on the beach to judge the direction. Then swim at a right angle to the current."

Both men had become separated from their boards, which are usually attached to the wrist by a leash.

"Forty per cent of first- timers I teach, when asked what to do if you get into trouble, say 'detach the leash' ­ which is completely wrong because it is a floating object to hold on to," Mr Barber said.

Bodyboarding had become in creasingly popular in the past 10 years, he said. "Up until 18 months ago bodyboarding was the biggest-growing water sport in the world.

"And it is really important for people to have a lesson. You wouldn't go rock climbing without a lesson but people get on a board without one. It might save their life or the life of their child. Surfers live with the water and we are used to it but holidaymakers just don't appreciate the dangers."