SAFETY FIRST: Surfing paramedic Gavan Clark, 60, can still charge serious waves on his shortboard.
SAFETY FIRST: Surfing paramedic Gavan Clark, 60, can still charge serious waves on his shortboard. Contributed

Surfer saving lives in the water

Surf Guru Andrew McKinnon with his proposed master plan for new surf breaks on the Gold Coast , including a dome headland for Broadbeach. Picture Glenn Hampson
Andrew McKinnon Glenn Hampson

SURF SCENE with Andy Mac

WELL known Gold Coast surfing paramedic Gavan Clark is launching his new business Aable Training this month in the Maldives.

Together with partner Sally Hogan , Gavan will provide a course specifically for surf guides that includes first aid, surf rescue and a number of other elements such as customer service and hospitality.

As surf travel is exploding worldwide with more charter boats and surf camps opening every year, there is a real need to be properly equipped to deal with injuries in these out-of-the-way places.

The locations are attracting more surfers to remote area reef breaks and the average surfing ability has dropped alarmingly. Recently there has been a big increase in serious injuries and, in the worst case, fatalities.

"I've found a lot of surf charter boat and resort operators have staff with little or no accredited first aid qualifications or training and little if any medical or rescue equipment,” Gavan said.

"In this age of litigation, surf travel operators are leaving themselves open to law suits if a case of injury or death is found to be due to a lack of duty of care.”

His training program began in the Mentawais where he supplied an automatic defibrillator, rescue spinal board and trained their surf guide and crew with a full first-aid training course.

"Following the training, I flew to the Telo Islands and did a week of intense first-aid and rescue training with Resort Latitude Zero's surf guides, boat crews and basic first-aid training with the resort staff,” he said.

Clark started surfing on the Gold Coast when he was 10 years old. When professional surfing was established in the 1980s, Gavan was a top competitor, placing runner-up in the annual 1984 Byron Easter Classic.

Proud rescue team with their first aid certificates with Sally Hogan and Gavan Clark of Aable Training.
Proud rescue team with their first aid certificates with Sally Hogan and Gavan Clark of Aable Training. Contributed

But rather than turning pro, Clark opted to be a paramedic/helicopter rescue crewman, a position he has held over the past 30 years based on the Gold Coast. He said the job has been very rewarding and the main motivation had been that he "always liked helping people!”.

But in those 30 years, he has witnessed his fair share of tragic situations.

"I've saved a lot of lives but have seen many loss of lives from accidents, MVAs, heart attacks,” he said, and added, "but the hardest of all was kids in pools.”

His most rewarding experience was saving a baby in a pram that fell into the river at Cronin Island back in 1991. The baby survived after 10 minutes underwater. He also performed some amazing rescues while based on the Careflight Helicopter for the past 20 years of his career.

In the 1990s, he was driving past Burleigh Point in the ambulance when he heard on the two-way that 1989 world champion Martin Potter had severely injured himself falling on his fins. The Burleigh Boardriders assisted Potter over the rocks, allowing Gavan to perform a fast rescue and safe passage to hospital. It was a combination of lucky timing and quick management that led to saving the life of the now World Tour webcast commentator.

At 60 years, Gavan Clark is living the dream, a super fit surfer for his age who continues to charge on a small board while saving lives in the process.

What's his best advice if you get into trouble in the tropics?

"Never do things on your own, have a buddy,” he said.

"Tell someone what you are doing, don't panic, try to stay calm and call for help.”

Gavan and Sally will be at the annual Kirra Teams event from Friday, March 2 to Sunday, March 4 to offer their first aid services.

Performing CPR on a canoe in the tropics.
Conducting CPR training on a canoe in the tropics. Contributed