What’s the price tag for three days of hands-on training from coastal paramedics, professional big wave chargers and zonal specialists? There isn’t one. (Except, maybe, having the cajones to want to get in the water with 40-foot walls in the first place.)
Started in 2011 by big wave surfers Danilo Couto and Kohl Christensen, the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group runs an annual three-day ocean safety summit on the North Shore of Oahu. The organization was founded after the devastating loss of the duo’s close friend and fellow big wave surfer, Sion Milosky, who suffered a fatal wipeout while chasing massive swell at Maverick’s.
For Danilo, it was an eye-opening loss. “I was there with him, and I knew there were ways we could have prevented that loss. There were things we could have changed to avoid it.” This conviction eventually grew into the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group – and a personal mission for Danilo.
BWRAG’s first meeting took form as a modest training in a barn on Kohl’s farm, where they reviewed CPR and basic safety protocols. It was a solid start, but Danilo envisioned something greater. He wanted “to push it a little more, do a little more training into really radical life saving.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. This was all happening around the same time that big wave surfing began gaining real momentum, so pushing it to the next level felt natural. The surf community was stoked to have a venue to promote better communication and preparation in the water.
Fast forward five years, and BWRAG now hosts hundreds of surfers, connecting them with experts like Brian Keaulana, one of the pioneers of ocean safety in Hawaii, performance freedivers, paramedics and local professionals. Held this year at Turtle Bay Resort, the three-day summit offers extensive training in all forms of high risk management. They methodically break down potential risks and worst case scenarios, analyzing the mechanics of different breaks and how each reacts to powerful swell. From apnea training to wave forecasting, participants are educated on both preventative and emergency procedures so if the time comes, they’ll have the tools to save not only their own life, but someone else’s.
Although the majority of the summit focuses on mental and physical training, participants are also briefed on the latest life saving equipment, from Jet Skis to inflatable vests. Industry experts come out to demonstrate how to efficiently use modern life-saving technologies, making it easier for participants to properly utilize them in tough conditions.
Danilo notes that, “Already a bunch of our friends have been saved by this movement. Everybody is starting to be more ready to react when things go wrong.” But despite all the positive feedback, he constantly feels like they could be doing more. BWRAG is always looking for opportunities to grow, working to offer a deeper education, more targeted trainings and larger summits that can reach more surfers. After all, the ultimate goal is to do more than run a successful summit. The dream is to create a full blown safety fever – a movement that brings a sense of risk responsibility to everyone involved in big wave surfing.
BWRAG doesn’t charge for the summit, they aren’t chasing money or recognition. They’re simply working to minimize risk in the sport they love. The best way to do that? Any of them will tell you. “Train hard and have all your equipment prepared. The only way you can feel ready and relaxed is to feel prepared.”
We’re honored to have partnered with the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group as a 2015 corporate sponsor. For more information on the organization, please visit BWRAG.ORG.