Ironman outrage over 'laughable' protective gear proposal

Shannon Eckstein strongly opposes the recommendations.
Shannon Eckstein strongly opposes the recommendations. Delly Carr/Sportshoot

THE champions of elite surf lifesaving have joined forces to oppose new recommendations which could force them to wear helmets and lifejackets in rough seas.

The Surf Life Saving Australia board will meet in Perth this weekend to discuss the "final report" into the use of Personal Protective Equipment.


But the man widely regarded as "Australia's greatest ironman", Shannon Eckstein, has gathered the signatures of ironmen and ironwomen across Australia, including the Sunshine Coast, to "strongly" oppose the move.

Grant Kenny, who received an Order of Australia Medal for his contribution to the sport, has also warned he may walk away if the measures were approved.

Steve Barclay, the father of 14-year-old Matt Barclay who died in rough seas at the Aussie titles, said helmets and life jackets were no substitute to calling off a dangerous surf event.
Steve Barclay, the father of 14-year-old Matt Barclay who died in rough seas at the Aussie titles, said helmets and life jackets were no substitute to calling off a dangerous surf event. Cade Mooney

Steve Barclay, the father of 14-year-old Matthew Barclay, who died in rough seas at the Australian Surf Lifesaving event in March 2012, had concerns.

Mr Barclay said the use of PPEs should always be a "last resort" and if seas were dangerous, it would be better to "call the event off".

Mr Barclay said the family was "still waiting" for the coroners report into his son's death.

Matthew's death, as well as that of other competitors in previous events, Saxon Bird and Robert Gatenby, was listed as the "catalyst" for the new recommendations for PPEs in the final report.


Mr Kenny said the recommendations were "laughable".

"I wouldn't wear a helmet in a race when you have to swim out through the surf in rough seas, or a life jacket," he said.

"I would seriously contemplate my future involvement in the sport if this was the case.

"Not taking anything out of the severity of what has happened (with the three deaths), but over the 20 years of the sport there have been a number of events and people taking part.

"It is a low number; it doesn't make it acceptable."

The letter to the SLSA board, circulated among Sunshine Coast competitors including Ali Day and Matt Bevilacqua, objects to their lack of involvement in the "consultative process".

Do you agree with life jackets and vests being mandatory at lifesaving events and training?

This poll ended on 24 July 2015.

Current Results

No, they aren't practical, it will destroy the sport?


Yes, if safety is an issue, it seems logical to bring in safety measures


I wasn't consulted so it's hard to judge whether they would be useful or not


This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

It highlights PPEs have never been trialled by elite athletes in a competitive environment and questions the "necessity and validity" of the recommendations.

It warns of the "profound damage" the recommendations would have on the sport.

Mr Eckstein explained there was a "coolness" aspect involved with young people choosing a sport.

"We are already wearing pink lycra (for safety) and there have been so many comments that's not cool.

"If we had to wear helmets and lifejackets, it could possibly not help."

SLSA deputy president Ralph Devlin, a long-serving member of the Maroochydore Club, said the board would be considering the feedback in Perth before making a final decision.

"There are a range of issues the board needs to come to grips with. I doubt it will finally be resolved this weekend.

"We will be reading all the feedback with interest."




SLSA Personal Protective Equipment Project Final Report key recommendations:

  • The wearing of SLSA approved Level 25 life jackets is mandated in defined craft competition (surfboat, surf ski, board) during periods of heightened risk as determined through a recognised risk assessment.
  • The policy be introduced for all specified disciplines from October 1, 2016.
  • The wearing of SLSA approved surf helmets is mandated in defined craft competition during periods of heightened risk.
  • The policy be introduced for IRB disciplines from October 1, 2015 and for surf ski disciplines from October 1, 2017.
  • The wearing of surf helmets and level 25 life jackets is highly recommended both formal and informal craft training sessions as well as competition once devices are available.

Topics:  editors picks ironman safety surf life saving australia

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