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Surf rescue: ILSF volunteers share their real-life stories

Updated: May 23

Israeli surf rescue volunteer Martin Kroser on his bodyboard off the coast of the Israeli city of Netanya.
Israeli surf rescue volunteer Martin Kroser on his bodyboard off the coast of the Israeli city of Netanya. He saw a man drowning in front of him and used his surf rescue techniques to come in from behind and save him.

Two volunteers from Israel's surf rescue organization, the Israel Life Saving Federation, were in the right place at the right time, and saved people from drowning in two separate incidents this month. Here are the stories of their rescues.

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Surf rescue skills keep a wedding from becoming a funeral

Veteran volunteer Martin Kroser was on his bodyboard a few hundred meters from shore in Netanya, waiting to catch a wave at the back break, when he realized a man was drowning in front of him.

"I was at Argaman Beach, bodyboarding with a friend. We were waiting for a wave when we heard someone shouting. At first I thought he was just calling his friend on the beach but he shouted again and I recognized the panic in his voice.

"Luckily a wave came at that exact moment. I caught it and got to the drowning person within a few seconds. He was caught in a rip tide close to the beach and was trying to get to shore while fighting the rip. Of course he could not go against the rip, and had started to panic."

Martin pulled from the skills that ILSF members practice weekly at volunteer training sessions in order to bring the man safely to shore.

"I handed him the bodyboard and told him to lie on it. I then started to talk to him to calm him down, and towed him to shore using the leash. He had not swallowed any water yet, but was completely exhausted."

On shore, the man and his friend told Martin their story. Young men in their 20s, they had been on their way to a wedding when they decided to go for a dip in the ocean. "Is the ocean dangerous here?" they asked him. "You almost ended up at a funeral instead of a wedding," Martin responded, taking the opportunity to explain basic water safety to them - always swim at a beach with lifeguards on duty, because any beach can be dangerous if there are strong currents that day.

Saving a child from drowning in a crowded Tel Aviv park

Israeli surf rescue volunteer and surfing instructor Alex Burnley on his board off the coast of Tel Aviv.
Israeli surf rescue volunteer and surfing instructor Alex Burnley on his board off the coast of Tel Aviv.

Alex Burnley, an ocean swimming and surfing trainer by profession, and a volunteer surf rescue and fitness instructor with the ILSF, was walking his dog through a popular recreation spot in Tel Aviv on his way to meet his sister when he came across a drowning 4-year-old.

"It was the day after Pesach, and young families with toddlers were enjoying the last day of the vacation at the beach. Some large families had converged at the estuary of the Yarkon River," which runs through central Israel and northern Tel Aviv before emptying into the Mediterranean Ocean. Swimming is not permitted anywhere near the area, which can be dangerous due to strong currents, pollution from the river and infrastructure from the nearby power plant. "Although it looks shallow, a large pit had been dug by the cross current of the sea and river," Alex recalled.

"I was taking a picture when I heard a woman scream from the white bridge between the Tel Aviv Port and the old power station, 'The child!""

"A 4-year-old was submerged, his T-shirt over his head and just his hands popping out from the surface of the water. He was stuck in the pit."

It was every parent's nightmare. The child was drowning in plain sight of the many people enjoying the north Tel Aviv park that day, but no one else had realized it. The child's parents were nearby, but they hadn't realized how deep the water became so quickly. Until the woman had started to scream, they and other bystanders had thought the child was merely playing in shallow water.

"My training kicked in immediately. I passed my dog's leash to a man standing next to me and clambered over the guardrails that led to a drop down to the beach three meters below. I lowered myself, hanging by my arms, and did a hanging drop to the river bank."

"I landed and sprinted towards the young boy. The child's father and a 10-year-old standing nearby saw me running. That's when they reacted and jumped into the pit, too. We pulled the young boy out. Thankfully he was crying and his face was red. A good sign.

"The mother was very emotional. The rescue wasn't over. Holding the child and checking him, I called the ambulance services and directed them to our location while following their instructions. This is a perfect example of where quick reactions and good training can save lives. I'm also very thankful I was at the right place at the right time," Alex added.

Alex has been volunteering with the ILSF for three years, most notably as one of the trainers leading the weekly training sessions for volunteers. At training sessions, volunteers maintain and improve their fitness in the beach environment, both in and out of the water, and also practice rescue skills for proficiency and for sport.

"As an ocean swim and surf trainer, I can confirm that these trainings save lives and am thankful to be a part of this dynamic group of dedicated volunteers," Alex concluded.

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