Competing to save lives

By Alexa Hawksworth

A sport made for versatile athletes ready for new challenges

Invented in 1891 by the Royal Life Saving Society of England, lifesaving is an activity that really gained popularity with the creation of the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia in 1894.

The organization was first developed to ensure public safety during daylight bathing on the beaches of Sydney, Australia, according to the country’s Royal Life Saving Society. Volunteers gradually created patrol groups that taught lifesaving, as well as first aid training, to look after the increasing number of imprudent Australian bathers.

In the beginning, lifesaving was not a sport but rather a strong rivalry between the more ancient Australian lifesaving clubs, such as the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club, and the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club. The rivalry is what turned lifesaving into a competitive sport, according to Irish Water Safety. With the creation of the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales (SBANSW) on Oct. 10, 1907, nine Australian clubs and affiliated associations organized official competitive lifesaving events. Later in the 20th century, lifesaving clubs emerged in other parts of Australia and around the world.

Records of lifesaving events in Canada date back to 1894, when Arthur Lewis Cochrane taught his lifesaving skills to students of the Upper Canada College in Toronto, according to the Canadian Lifesaving Society. Following that, lifesaving started to spread in Canada and, in 1904, the Royal Life Saving Society of Canada was created. Since the 1930s, the society has hosted many lifesaving sport events and, today, the Canadian Lifesaving Society hosts its own national championship.

What kind of a sport is lifesaving?

As a sport, lifesaving is an educational activity that mixes first aid training and athletic techniques. There are two main types of contests: pool and beach events.

Pool Events

Pool events are mainly swimming events, but they differ from traditional swimming competitions because obstacles, like mannequins, and flippers are involved. Mannequins represent the upper body of a person. They are one metre long and filled with water. The goal for the athlete is to dive, grab the mannequin and drag it a given distance.

Obstacles are underwater barriers that go 70 centimetres below the surface. They are often positioned in the middle of the pool. Athletes have to dive under an obstacle every time they reach one.

Flippers are feet extensions that a swimmer puts on to increase their speed. There are 11 trials in a pool lifesaving event, including the 200m obstacle swim, the 100m mannequin tow with flippers, and the 4x50m medley relay.

Beach events

Beach or open water events have trials on land and in the water. They combine reaction, running, stamina, swimming, surf skiing and board paddling. A total of 16 trials comprise a beach event. Trials such as the surf race, the beach sprint or the board race test athletes’ different abilities.

The main attraction of a beach event is the Oceanman/Oceanwoman race. It combines all the requirements to be a beach lifeguard in one race. Beach events also have unique trials such as inflatable rescue boat (IRB) events and surf boat events. Beach events are often more spectacular as there are natural elements involved such as wind and waves.

One final event that is common in both pool and beach events is the simulated emergency response competition (SERC). It’s a two-minute event that tests the lifesaving skills of a four-athlete team through simulated emergency situations unknown to them in advance.

Points in beach and pool events are awarded as followed: the relay teams and individual athletes placing among the top 16 in each trial earn points for their club. The club that earns the most points wins the event. At the end of a pool or beach event, the top three teams or athletes of each trial are also awarded medals.

Why should you join a lifesaving club in Montreal?

Lifesaving is a very interesting sport because it is not only physically demanding, but also a useful activity where you learn actual life-saving techniques. In this sport, a good athlete is a good lifesaver, therefore, lifesaving diplomas are mandatory. So, if you’re looking for a physical sport that could lead to a useful and interesting diploma and job opportunities, lifesaving might be for you.

As a Concordia student or a Montrealer, you live in a city that is home to many lifesaving clubs. Within an hour of Concordia’s downtown campus, you can reach no less than six clubs in all parts of the city and surrounding areas. These clubs all provide weekly classes, from beginner to experienced levels. As a student, it could be an interesting opportunity to test your physical capacities.

The lifesaving diploma and first aid training will always be useful in your everyday life. Not only will it teach you to calmly help people in urgent situations, this training will also give you the opportunity to work as a lifeguard at a pool or beach. Overall, lifesaving can make you a versatile athlete, a good lifesaver or both.

Main graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

Lifesaving clubs in Montreal:

Le Club de Sauvetage Rive-Nord (CSRN) in Laval

Sauvetage Sportif 30-Deux in Ste-Julie

Club Aquatique du Sud-Ouest in St-Henri

Club Aquatique de l’Est de Montréal in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

The Rouville Surf Club with a facility in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Ahuntsic-Cartierville

Club les Piranhas du Nord (CAPN) in Ahuntsic-Cartierville

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