September 25 - October 1, 2022: Issue 556

 

Damian & Lucie Geyle: The Barrenjoey Swim School

Last week Surf Life Saving New South Wales released its 2022 NSW Coastal Safety Report. The report revealed that 2021/22 recorded the highest number of coastal drownings on record – up almost 30% on the 10-year average.


NSW SLSC Volunteer Lifesavers commence patrol on Saturday September 24th 2022 for this season of 2022/2023. Last patrol is Tuesday April 25th 2023.

In the 2018 Avalon Beach SLSC AGM Pittwater MP, Rob Stokes announced the Premier's Volunteer Recognition Program which recognises the contribution volunteers make towards strengthening our communities and congratulated the following Club members who received this award. Damian Geyle was recognised for 25 years service to the club.

In 1994 he finished studies for a BHMS (Sports Management). In 1996 Damian received a Commendation for Brave Conduct 'for acts of bravery'. He has also received the Royal Humane Silver Medal, 1996, and the Surf Life Saving NSW Bronze Medal, 1996. 

Active in triathlons, snow skiing, he and wife Lucie spent 4-5 years as Perisher Valley volunteer Ski Patrollers as well, along with surfing, trekking, sailing and rowing, Damian has represented ABSLSC in State and National Surf Life Saving Championships in the IRB and Open Surf Boat competitions, with Avalon Beach taking the Gold Medal in States in the IRB in 2001



Lucie has an extensive background in sports as well, having competed in track and field and cross-country skiing in Europe. 

The couple also have three children they are busy looking after.

Earlier this year the Geyles' popular Barrenjoey Swim School, which provides an essential service in teaching young children to swim, was threatened with closure due to a complaint about noise. The order by council was revoked as a working towards solutions was sought. However, the Geyles have no more room for new swimmers and have a waiting list. This is becoming a problem many parents face in our area.

As we head into the warmer months of the year, which will see thousands of visitors and residents taking to the water off our beaches, a few insights into a couple who have dedicated their time to helping the next generation to be safer around water.

How is Barrenjoey Swim School at present – busy?

Damian: We’re busy, as always, and as we head into summertime people begin to inquire about swimming lessons. Unfortunately there will be a lot of people that will miss out – we don’t have the capacity to meet the demand and already have a waitlist. This is a waitlist for children who are 5, 6, and 7 years old.

Do they have any experience in the water as yet?

No – they could not save themselves.

What would you suggest the parents do – join their youngsters as Nippers at their local surf club or…?

Nippers is a great way to start because it’s going to give them an understanding of the dangers of where they are (in living in a coastal environment). Kids come to the beach and think ‘hey, that looks like fun, I’m going to jump in this water’ – and if they’re not understanding where they are they could be swept out by a rip or they will be bowled over by a wave. 

It can often be the case that the parents don’t understand the beach themselves, so it’s imperative that they get instructions from people who live it and breathe it. That way they are aware of where they are and know their limitations and know the dangers of coming to the beach.

Today is a classic example – it’s a beautiful day, but, there are little perils all the way along the beach for children in that age group. 

Do they need more education in identifying what is happening in the water when they first step onto the beach?

Damian: When you come to the beach you will notice that anyone who is a surfer or regular beach goer, the first thing they do is stop and look at the water. Within the first few seconds they have already identified where the dangers are, and where the fun is to be had. Children don’t do that unless they’re educated on what they are looking for. 

What worries us, as Swim Teachers, is we’ve had Covid kids. Covid children are children who have never been exposed to water, and they don’t know how to swim. 

We have a new category of classes we’re running for children who are 5, 6, and 7 years old who don’t; know how to put their head underwater. Or, they don’t know how to hold their breath. These children can be terrified of water.

We have never seen this throughout the years we’ve been teaching swimming – we always had the odd child who didn’t have these basics, but now there is a far greater number. 

How are you addressing that through these classes?

Lucie:  The swimming lessons are important for learning to swim– in the pool, in still waters, and it helps them for when they join Nippers to gain the extra knowledge. 

The most at-risk group are the children who are younger than 5 years of age. Those that are 2 to 2 ½, until they can swim, are the most at risk because they don’t understand the consequences. This age group will see a ball in the pool and think they can get it, they will lean over and fall in and will be in danger immediately. It takes less than a minute for a child to drown – for children that have never had swimming lessons this is very dangerous. 

When they fall in the water they panic, they take water into their lungs straight away. You literally have 10 seconds, not even that, to get to them and get them out of the water.

If you start when they are really little to learn breath control and to learn buoyancy you are giving them a fighting chance. The body can actually float itself – if you can hold that breath, at such an early age, for 10 to 20 seconds, they will be able to paddle and grab to side of the pool. 

We are not just teaching school children we are also teaching preschoolers, toddlers and infants through mums and bubs classes. They are not going to swim long distances but by including the parents, grandparents and carers they too are learning all the safety aspects and learn more about what happens if the child does fall in the water.

This provides insights into how they can help at home, just in the bathtub. If they’re in just 5 centimetres of water, laying on their tummies, they’re learning to submerge and hold their breath. You make it a fun game – you start with one second, next time 5 seconds, then 10 seconds. 

Some children hate water on their faces, so you just go as slowly as needs dictate. Start by pouring water on the back of their head, just a little bit, then slowly increase the volume of water. This is really important, to get your child used to having water near their face. Parents are already introducing their babies to water but may not realise how instrumental bath time is for learning to swim. 

Barrenjoey Swim School has, in fact, adjusted each class to address the individual child’s needs – about how long does it take to help a child be able to be more comfortable in the water or to be ‘safer’?

Lucie: The range of time it takes is huge. It’s dependent on each individual and what else the family is doing at home. If the child is doing one lesson a week, that’s great, that’s where you start. Parents also need to put in the time as well – visit the aquatic centre, or just begin in the bathtub

To be able to swim the child needs to be able to put their face into the water and learn to float. As soon as they lift their head up, the body goes down, and they sink. That’s why they say it is a silent death. The child will try to lift their head up to take a breath and they go into a vertical position and sink further into the water. 

Damian: The best way to look at it from a parent’s point of view, is little segments of the child’s development. We break our swim school into terms. If a child has never learnt to put their face into the water, the first term’s goal might be blowing bubbles, putting the face under, relaxing and learning to float. That, in itself, should be viewed as an enormous achievement for an infant or a child. 

You will get a broad range of skill levels, coordination and development in children, Some children will take on that task within the first two lessons and they have already accomplished the first goal in swimming – floating. 

For other children it will take two terms  - that’s 20 lessons. What we ask parents to understand is; go with their child on this journey but to not make it stressful for the child – yes, there is urgency, but the parents need to be patient and work with the child’s own developmental ability. We see all too often parents stating ‘how come my child isn’t swimming as well as Johnny?’. 

Every child is different – perhaps their child excels at climbing trees, maybe they rip on a skateboard, Sally may not do that – she’s terrified of climbing trees or getting on a skateboard. 

You don’t leapfrog from nothing into swimming. You go from nothing to holding your breath, to putting your face in, to floating, to relaxing. Every one of these things is a massive milestone for an infant child or a toddler. 

And it’s not just the really young – this is the same for a child who may be 8 years of age and has never been in the water.

Lucie: with older children the development may come faster as they understand what we are explaining. Little children may take longer as they need to mature in themselves to retain these more complex skills. And of course, as with any learning, the more you do the faster you get there.

The best way to approach swimming is to do as much as you can as soon as you can to get there as fast as you can.

The Barrenjoey Swim School is one of our most popular local swim schools – didn’t that commence due to the demand you found, Damian, through teach Nippers here as a member of the Avalon Beach SLSC?

Damian: That’s correct. Our first son was in Nippers and we went from Under 6’s to Under 7’s to Under 8’s and Under 9’s. I was their Age Manager throughout this time. When we got to Under 9’s, I had a half dozen children that could go in the water confidently and then I had 40 kids that were terrified. 

I said to the Nipper parents; bring your children to our backyard and I will help them learn a few things about swimming. At that time, I was working in Sydney and Lucie was working in hospitality management. We both had normal lives doing normal adult jobs outside of what we did on the weekends. But the knocks on our door never ceased. It very quickly became apparent to us that there was not enough swim tuition for children in our area, and we couldn’t turn away those knocking on our door. It got to the point where we both gave away our day jobs to concentrate on just teaching kids in the local community.

That’s where it started; I never grew up thinking ‘I’m going to be a Swim Teacher’ – Lucie never grew up thinking that’s what she would be doing. 

Our background is sporting. I studied Sports Science and Sports Management and have dabbled in the sports sphere all my life. Lucie was a serious competitor in Europe doing track and field and cross-country skiing.

Cross-country skiing, alike swimming, is one of those sports where you use every muscle in your body?

Lucie: And you have to have a good technique. So in this field I can still beat Damian – he is much stronger, a much better sportsman than I am, but when we go on those ski trips and cross-country skiing, I’m just cruising and he’s working hard.

It’s like any sport, if you have good technique you can save energy and go the miles. 

Damian: so that’s our background - we both love sports – we’re very outdoors people and that has obviously helped us help others.

Did you both join Avalon Beach SLSC as Nipper parents?

Lucie: yes. I joined when our eldest son did, and did my Bronze Medallion. I did Patrols but didn’t do as much as I wanted to as then our number 2 and number 3 children came along. 

Given your backgrounds with the surf club, and all that training and education in sports and teaching swimming, you would have a unique perspective on what role a surf club performs in a coastal community?

Damian: I was fortunate that my parents moved to this area when it was still a quiet backwater. The activities for us children when we were growing up were limited – you could do football, you could do surf clubbing and you could do sailing. Growing up here I did all those things and gravitated towards the surf club and have been a member of this surf club since I was a Nipper, I’ve been involved in this surf club in some capacity for 45 years off and on. I did lifeguarding for 10 years for the local councils, so water has always been a part of our lives and the surf club is an integral part of that.

Lucie: the local surf club is one of the most important services in this community. It not only provides vital safety for visitors during the Season, and training for those who wish to serve others in that capacity, it provides year-round connection to others in our community. 

For me, coming from Europe, it is unbelievable what Australia and Australians do in a volunteer capacity. Whether it’s the Rural Fire Brigade, surf lifesaving, the local bushcare groups or all those parents who volunteer in all these local sports clubs during Winter or Summer, the volunteers in each of these is just amazing. This is a phenomenal investment back into community by thousands of residents in every place every year – these things would not actually exists without the volunteers. 

In regards to all the thousands who give up their time too form part of volunteer patrols throughout the Season, people would simply not be safe on the beach without them. Can you imagine how many drownings we would have if the surf club and its members weren’t here?

What has being a part of the surf club given to you?

Lucie: A sense of community obviously. Safety on the beach and in the water of course. I also think our local surf clubs are so good for mental health, caring for and about each other. If you’re feeling down or isolated you can come in and have a chat with someone or have a swim with others – to me it covers all aspects of what you need in a community, at its core. 

Damian: One of the things I’ve noticed over the years, and this is true of most volunteer organisations, is this wonderful ability for the baton to always be passed on. So early on, I may have been a very active member. Then as our circumstances have changed, we became less involved. You know what – somebody else in the community jumps up and says ‘hey, I’ll carry that baton for a while’. So, in the 40+ years I’ve been involved in this surf club the amount of people who have jumped up to carry the baton reveals a long trail of very dedicated passionate people. 

People cannot have that level of passion forever – the passion come and goes, but the best thing about it, in this community, is there is always someone else who is prepared to run with it– the fire is lit for them at one time or another and they are prepared to charge ahead and do what they can in whatever capacity they can. That’s what clubs and volunteer organisations are there for, so everyone can contribute to their local community. 

Lucie: Also from generation to generation. So although Damian and I have stepped back for a while our eldest and his peers have become involved in patrolling our beaches. These are the ones who Damian helped teach as an age manager. So the surf club also helps the next generation to be involved in the community and feel a vital part of it. 

They really enjoy it and get such a good sense of themselves and what they are doing for others. Some of their parents were actually doing their Patrols with their own children – and that’s a great thing, to have that connection through generations. It’s nice to keep families together and doing something positive together.

Damian: All the parents help out in whatever capacity they can when their children come down to participate. This is a wonderful part of our community and underlines how every surf club is family-orientated.

As you are at capacity, and so many other swim schools are, what would you advise parents whose children don’t have any experience around the water to do?

Lucie: If the parents have no experience around swimming or the beaches and can’t get into a swim school, which is a major concern, they could enrol their child in Nippers as a start point. At least here they can be educated about the surf and sea.

They could also commence lots of shallow water play to start off with. This is safe if the parents cannot swim. Use facilities like the children’s swimming rockpool here at Avalon Beach and get them used to being in water, supervised of course. 

When children see other children they will copy from them. 

Damian: One thing I would like to make absolutely clear is that parents should never ever assume that just because they have given their child a surf board and leg rope for Christmas, that they are safe.

In the years that we have been teaching children swimming some parents have watched their child swim 8 metres without a breath and the parent goes ‘oh good, they can swim, we’re getting them a surfboard, we’re going to start surfing now’. 

We’re horrified to think that parents think that just because they have a surfboard or a boogie board under their belly they’re ok. This is not a substitute for swimming – not a substitute for supervision - it’s not a substitute for staying alive. 

What we would impress upon people who have missed out on swimming lessons for this coming Seasons is don’t despair. Get in early during those colder months, when people are not thinking of swimming, and begin then. During Winter is when there is potentially more space in local swims schools.

Lucie: Parents may have to put in extra time and travel to swim schools that are much further away. Inconvenient, yes – but also incredibly important. We would recommend they become involved in the Laurie Lawrence Learn2Swim Week (https://learn2swimweek.com/) This runs from September 23 to October 1st in 2022 and is geared specifically to children under 5. Although there are no spots left available close to our area, there are other options that may help.

Through his Kids Alive, Do The Five Program, there has been made available swim support sessions that range from the timid beginner and baby through to the preschooler: kidsalive.com.au/videos/swim-support-sessions. These are provided online in a series of videos and will assist parents in what they can do to help their child. 

Laurie Lawrence is a legend in this area of teaching children and promoting safety in the water. This online series of videos also shares other resources to help parents and children. We would also reiterate his message of five steps to reduce the risk of preschool drowning. Also - do the Five:

  1. Fence the pool – this is required in NSW anyway
  2. Shut the gate
  3. Teach your kids to swim – it’s great
  4. Supervise – watch your mate and
  5. Learn how to resuscitate

Damian: These are great for parents who want to help their children and are available at all times, so once again, they can go at their child’s own pace and do so in a way that is positive and makes learning the basics a pleasant experience for all.

What are you two looking forward to this Season?

Damian: we’re still very much with our own children interests as they grow up – so being the chauffeurs at present, we’re at that stage. 

Lucie: one will be sailing, so we’ll be swapping the side of the water we’re on this Summer, from the beach to the estuary. We both surf a lot, so we’ll be doing that.

You both surf?

Damian: yes, we’re both avid surfers.

What is your favourite break?

Lucie: North Av. and across the middle of the beach. Damian is Little Av., that’s his favourite. That way I can get some waves if he’s not next to me (laughs). So when not being chauffeurs we love surfing. 

That’s another thing - Surfers in this community save so many people each year, especially during Winter. The Pittwater Ward of the Northern Beaches Council does not have any lifeguarding during Winter. I think we should. We pay the same rates; why don’t we have the same service?

What are your favourite places in Pittwater and why?

Lucie: Can I give 2 places? As a kid, when I was 6 years old, I used to watch Skippy. At 6 years of age I thought, ‘that’s where I want to live’. This was in the Czech Republic, in Europe – it was dubbed. (sings the theme song in Czechoslovakian) 

I remember watching this episode where the girl got stuck with her foot between the rocks, which is probably Portuguese Beach or one of those beaches offshore, and they gave her a bamboo shoot or a water reed to breathe through. It was so beautiful, the place around her, and I thought ‘that’s where I want to live’. And now I’m living my childhood dream – I’m living here.

How did you two meet?

Lucie: In England, in Cornwall.

Damian: I was doing a Gap Year. She didn’t love me, she just loved Pittwater (laughs). She just used me as a ticket to get here. (Lucie laughs too).

Lucie: My other favourite place is North Avalon Beach – I just love it. It’s a special place – you walk down that green grass, you have those rocks. I love Avalon Beach but I love the Pittwater as well, based on that episode. 

And for you Damian?

There is only one for me – Avalon and Avalon Beach. I grew up here and this is it – this is my home. Whether north, south, middle, the dunes, over there at LA, swimming around the rocks, diving, playing in the bush reserves, that’s it for me. Avalon is what I know. Growing up here it was full of horse paddocks – there was more horses in the then Warringah Council than any other council area in Australia.

There were probably two houses and then a vacant block on every street. There was no kerb and guttering, in fact there was no sewerage. Everyone was on septic tanks. Everyone knew everyone – not by name – but you knew who people were. You’d duck through their backyards to get over to see your mates because there were no fences. So I was very comfortable in this environment – and it’s still a great place.

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

Lucie: Carpe Diem – live for the day, seize the day. Do your best at whatever you try to do – not ‘be the best’ but ‘do your best’.

Damian: Yes; if you’re going to do anything in life, do it properly, don’t faff about. It doesn’t matter what it is you choose to do it matters how you choose to do it.

Everyone in life has a skill, perhaps more so in one area than another. If you’re a lucky individual you will have been able to pass on some of your knowledge to those that are interested and vice versa. It may have taken you 10 years to acquire that knowledge but when you pass it on and share it, you are enriching others. 

We’re passionate about Teaching Swimming and feel lucky that we can pass on some life skills. 

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (known commonly as Skippy) is an Australian television series created by Australian actor John McCallum (Bayview resident then), Lionel (Bob) Austin and Lee Robinson produced from 1967 to 1969 (airing from 1968 to 1970) about the adventures of a young boy and his highly intelligent pet kangaroo, and the various visitors to the fictional Waratah National Park, filmed in today's Waratah Park and adjoining portions of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park near Sydney. Ninety-one 30-minute episodes were produced.

The Australian series was one of the most heavily exported programs. It was broadcast in all Commonwealth countries, including in Canada where it was adapted in Quebec for the Standard French market as Skippy le kangourou.

Making its UK debut on 8 October 1967 on ATV (four months before it was released in its native Australia), Skippy rivalled Doctor Who and The Avengers in terms of popularity in Britain’s TV Comic. 

It was dubbed into Spanish in Mexico, where it is known as Skippy el canguro, and has been seen in most Spanish-speaking countries, including Cuba and Spain, where it became very popular. In Latín America, the show was broadcast on free TV in 1970s, and on pay TV (Cable, Satellite and IPTV) vía Sundance Channel (Channel 520 of DIRECTV).

It was shown in the Netherlands, where it was first screened between 1969 and 1972. In Germany, it was known as Skippy, das Buschkänguruh, while in Italy was known as Skyppy il canguro and broadcast by RAI Television. The show was popular in Scandinavia, and in Norway a chain of shopping centres were named in honour of the programme. The series crossed the Iron Curtain and was aired in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.

The series was also widely distributed in Ghana where it aired weekly on the GBC. The series was also broadcast in Iran. 

When it was broadcast in the United States, Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo was frequently shown as weekend children's television program.

Episode: number: 10 "Time And Tide"; Clancy loses Dr. Anna Steiner's camera after a spider jumps onto her and startles her. After going into the water to search for it, she gets her foot stuck under a rock. The tide starts rising, and it's up to Jerry and Mark to rescue Clancy.