By CRAIG McTEAR
AS holiday-makers flock to our beaches over the next two weeks, there is one simple message: 'please don't die'. This is the dire plea from Coffs Coast lifeguards and lifesavers as the 2004/2005 surf season officially kicks off today. The drowning of an American university student at Red Rock two weeks ago was the first in this area for four years and served as a tragic reminder of just how deadly our beaches can be. A dedicated band of council lifeguards and surf lifesaving club volunteers will be watching over us again this season in a bid to prevent any dramas. 'No flags. No swim' is the key message Coffs Harbour City Council senior lifeguard Greg Hackfath was reinforcing yesterday. "That's the simplest message we can convey to all beachgoers, and it's been endorsed by the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguards Association," Mr Hackfath said. "All beaches in our area should have warning signs and we're pleading with people to look at them before they go into the water. "They should also consider the conditions at the time and their ability. The bigger the surf is, the more dangerous the conditions, so people should recognise their own individual ability." Mr Hackfath said beach goers should always remember to swim between the flags. "People think they're indestructible when they jump into the water, and that's when they get into trouble," he said. "I urge people to get on the internet and learn how to recognise rips. They can sometimes be smooth bodies of water without a wave or a ripple, while at other times, they can be a howling current. They can vary in their appearance." Mr Hackfath said there had already been a couple of close calls ahead of the start to the season, including an Irish backpacker sucked out in a horrendous rip on his boogie board at Sawtell Beach. With the help of the Rotary Club of Coffs Harbour Daybreak, the community is raising funds to build lifeguard towers at Park Beach, Sawtell Beach and Diggers Beach, with the two remaining beaches still under discussion. "Hopefully, the first tower will go up at Park Beach, overlooking the danger areas of the Coffs Creek and North Wall beach before the start of the Christmas period," Mr Hackfath said. "Ninety per cent of our rescues at Park Beach are at the creek mouth or North Wall, and the other area of concern is the stretch of surf below the Hoey Moey." When asked to nominate the 'worst' beaches in the area as far as conditions were concerned, Mr Hackfath said all had the potential to be 'as bad as each other'. "They can all turn nasty at the drop of a hat," he said. A professional lifeguard for the past seven years, and having been in and out of surf clubs since he was 16, Mr Hackfath says his worst experiences were witnessing two separate drownings at North Wall Beach four and five years ago respectively.
Mr Hackfath is warning beach goers that conditions may not be ideal this weekend, with forecasts of strong winds ranging from easterlies to north-easterlies, and the swell decreasing to one metre.