A SURF life saving manager has told an inquest how a Sunshine Coast teen's drowning led to a decision to split U15 events off to a separate national youth championship.
Surf Lifesaving Australia sports manager Nathan Hight said it was a "significant shift" that sprang from debate about the competency and physiological differences between U15s and U17s.
"The key difference of those between U15 and U17 is that the bronze medallion is introduced to those participants," he told Brisbane Coroners Court.
Matt Barclay, 14, disappeared in the surf off Kurrawa, while competing in a U15 board event at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships on the Gold Coast, on March 28, 2012.
The coroner is investigating whether the national championships event should have been postponed or cancelled over safety concerns, and what policies were in place to assess that.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigator Peter Hurrey told the court he believed event officials should have stopped Matt's race, a move organisers had made earlier in the day due to big seas, to comply with their duty to competitors.
He said while some experienced personnel had no problem with the conditions, earlier competitors were concerned about the conditions and lifeguards concerns were not communicated to senior officials.
Mr Hurrey - a barrister and Mooloolaba Surf Lifesaving Club member - said official should have taken into account it was a children's event and that the Inflatable Rescue Boat was on the beach instead of in the water.
"It's problematic from a Workplace Health and Safety point of view," he said.
"The fact that you're dealing with kids who aren't as qualified in one sense and the fact that you didn't have the safety craft in position, the IRB ready to go to perform its function, I think it should probably have been either delayed until that was in place and moved ... to where the break wasn't as bad," he said.
Matt's dad Steve said the inquest was tough for his family, noting his teenage daughter especially found it hard to listen to.
He said he thought there were good points and bad points that had come out of the evidence, which will conclude today.(Tuesday)
"Some points are very difficult to listen to, certainly not like the first part of the trial where we heard from the pathologist so some of these things are more perfunctory than anything," he said.
Mr Hight said U15s were this year prohibited from competing in higher age groups, which they had been allowed to do in the past, and there was now also debate about whether U17s and U19s should be allowed to compete above their division.
He said 2015 would be the first year that U14s and U15s would have their own two-day event at North Kirra beach on April 11 and 12, which would precede the masters and open events over the following seven days.
Barrister Steve Courtney, acting for the Barclay family, asked Mr Hight about the changes between 19-year-old competitor Saxon Bird's death at the event in March, 2010, and Matt's death in March, 2012.
"What actually was delivered? I realise a lot was in the planning but actually on the beach (what was) delivered that would increase the likelihood of an incapacitated competitor surviving?" Mr Courtney asked.
Mr Hight said the only tangible controls were high visibility vests used from 2011 and the shallow water rescue team initiative from 2012.
But the inquest heard that shallow water rescue team, who were sought from all over Australia, had never tested their abilities for the role.
"It had been a table-top exercise," he said.
Mr Hight said there had since been practical training - a full missing person exercise done in a white water environment - at the 2013 and 2014 events.
"The enhancement made in 2013-14 was all about activating quickly and organising quickly that group," he said.
Mr Hight said the organisation had plans to introduce surfboat helmet use during hazardous conditions from October this year once a supply issue had been sorted out.
He also said SLSA did not want to rush down the path of mandatory use across all surf disciplines on all craft during surf hazards until they had the policies right.
SLSA personal risk safety manager Andrew Bradstreet said hundreds of vests had been tested but none had yet met Australian Standards so they could not be introduced into the sport.
He said the problem with buoyancy devices was that they must be appropriately fitted to individual bodies, noting they could ride up around shoulders and become redundant when it came to keeping a body afloat.
When shown a vest that could have different types of buoyancy placed inside it to suit varying body types, Mr Bradstreet said it had a "somewhat of an illusionary buoyancy benefit".
"We can't provide guarantees that particular vest will work in all situations," he said.
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