The last swimmer in the winning 200-metre relay team set to cross the line at St Regis Hotel yesterday. Christopher Pike / The National
The last swimmer in the winning 200-metre relay team set to cross the line at St Regis Hotel yesterday. Christopher Pike / The National

Rough seas make life difficult for lifeguards

ABU DHABI // Lifeguards competing in the national championships found themselves in the unusual position of being rescued from rough seas off Saadiyat Island on Sunday.

Competitors battled cramps, vomiting and exhaustion as 15-knot winds whipped up 2-metre waves and strong currents at the 9th National Lifeguard Championship.

Kim Rojas, who works at Dubai Ladies’ Club, had to be rescued in the first event, a 200-metre swim out to a buoy and back.

“As soon as I jumped into the first wave I swallowed a lot of water, hit my leg on a stone and cramped up,” the Filipina said. “I’d tell anyone without experience, don’t go into the water when conditions are like this.”

Stewart Hodsol, one of the event’s founding organisers, said: “Some of these guys are mainly swimming pool and water park lifeguards who don’t have open-ocean experience.

“But that’s what it’s all about – giving them training.”

Some events were cancelled because of the conditions.

More than 150 men and women made up 28 competing teams.

Mr Hodsol said the event had never experienced conditions as rough as Sunday’s. He said the public had to be aware of the conditions before entering the water.

“You can see when lifeguards, good swimmers, are struggling with these conditions people have to take a look at the situation before they venture into the sea themselves,” he said.

Others believed the championship should have been postponed.

“If it was up to me I would have cancelled today’s water events,” said Yousif Ismail, coach of the Dubai Municipality team, the only government team in the competition.

“Even lifeguards had to be saved today. For us it’s always safety first.”

Mr Ismail said he knew his lifeguards were fit and well trained.

“We are advanced in lifesaving because we have to cover more areas and have more of the public to look after,” he said. “My lifeguards could be responsible for over 3,000 during the weekend.”

The Dubai Municipality team this year staged a return to the competition. They last competed in 2008, when they won the championship.

Rob Klok, also a founding member of the event and this year’s head referee, wanted to reinforce Mr Hodsol’s message.

“If you’re unsure don’t enter the water, ask a lifeguard first, swim in front of where the lifeguards are and if you’re in the water please listen to the lifeguards,” said Mr Klok, who has been a lifeguard for 25 years and works at Wild Wadi Water Park in Jumeirah.

The events included a 1-kilometre beach run, a 400-metre swim followed by a 150-metre run, a 90-metre beach sprint relay and a 400m swim relay.

Mr Klok said the championship had come a long way.

“There are no more weak teams and we now have four female teams, which shows women’s increased involvement in lifeguarding in the UAE,” he said.

One of the female competitors was Yas Waterworld’s Beth Smith, 24, from the UK.

Although men are traditionally stronger than women in sports the 6-year lifeguard sees no reason why women should not have just as big a part to play in a competition such as this one.

“It’s less about how strong a swimmer you are and more about swimming in the right direction and knowing the tides and the beach,” said Ms Smith.

The team from Le Meridien Al Aqah, Fujairah, the resort which held the first event nine years ago, were crowned this year’s champions.

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UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets

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Ain Dubai in numbers

126: The length in metres of the legs supporting the structure

1 football pitch: The length of each permanent spoke is longer than a professional soccer pitch

16 A380 Airbuses: The equivalent weight of the wheel rim.

9,000 tonnes: The amount of steel used to construct the project.

5 tonnes: The weight of each permanent spoke that is holding the wheel rim in place

192: The amount of cable wires used to create the wheel. They measure a distance of 2,4000km in total, the equivalent of the distance between Dubai and Cairo.

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