Saving the best surfers in the world, from a jet ski
The 2017 Drug Aware Margaret River pro ended this month, so we had a chat with Simon Tien, the guy who sits on the back of a rescue jet ski and jumps into action if a competitor needs help in the water.
We quizzed him on what’s it like to be responsible for the safety of the best surfers in the world, and how mindfulness helps him stay focused on the job at hand.
Trident Marine: Tell us a bit about yourself?
Simon Tien: I moved from Scarborough to Gracetown after finishing school to chase the waves. I was a surf coach with Josh Palmateer for 10-years, traveling around. It was probably my first full time job, if you’d call it that. I taught Aboriginal children in Broome how to surf, and then we brought them to Margaret River for a for surf comp at Injidup, where kids from all over Australia competed.
TM: What did you do after that?
ST: Like a lot of people in WA I started chasing the coin in mining. Through that I fell into the emergency services side of things, which planted the seed for paramedics. I am studying that now while running my Float Centre business [Floating Euphoria].
TM: How did the Jet Ski rescue work come about?
ST: Through a friend of mine, Perry Hatchett. He was on the world tour for 25 years as head judge of the ASP (now WSL). Perry left his judging career and started Water Patrol Australia with professional surfer Paul ‘Antman’ Paterson, a big wave surfer from back in the day.
When work dried up, up North, Perry put me onto the jet ski stuff, so I’ve been towing [surfers into big waves] for 10 years now. Then the rescue stuff came about. I held my Bronze Medallion and did it for schools and comps, which meant patrolling the back of the line up for sharks, snapped boards, injuries and other emergencies. When the Pro came up, Perry asked me to be the ‘safety swimmer’.
TM: What’s it like looking out for the best surfers in the world?
ST: The opportunity to do the Margaret River Pro was one of the best things in the world. I got to watch my favourite surfers in the world, in the water, from a jet ski, and their lives were in my hands. I was happy to jump into harm’s way for them!
TM: Did you have to deal with any emergencies during the pro?
ST: On the last day of the comp Kolohe Andino and Filipe Toledo were in the line up and all these schools of salmon went around them. A bronzey showed up, so we called the judges on the radio, who said that the heat would go on hold if the surfers felt uncomfortable. They decided to come back in.
TM: Tell us about towing surfers into big waves.
ST: You need to be calm, which is needed for emergency rescue, larger waves, and life in general. It’s so important to find mental stillness in hectic times, which is also why I love the Float Centre. You don’t need a lot of horse power towing in. The average surfer is towed in at 25 to 35 k/ph. You need the horsepower for the rescue side, to get in and out of the surf zones. They’re amazing machines. We use a Yamaha FX high output model, which is about 1,800 horsepower.
TM: So you have to match the speed of the wave?
ST: Yes, but the bigger the surf the faster the wave moves. You see the swell line and position the surfer in the best way you can, and give him a ‘flick’ or a ‘whip’ at the end. When the surfer gets speed they let go of the rope.
TM: What’s it like being towed in yourself?
ST: It’s great! You’ve got your life in their hands, but once you let go, your life is in your hands.
TM: Did you meet any of the pro surfers?
ST: I had Kelly Slater, John John Florence and his coach Ross Williams, Strider Wasilewski, commentator Mike Cliff and Sara Lailey, who works behind the scenes, come in for a float. John John actually came in twice.
Find out more about Simon’s business, Floating Euphoria or get updated on the Margaret River pro here. For more information about buying a jet ski, check out this blog. If you need insurance on a recreational jet ski, or want to find out if you could be saving more on your jet ski cover, please talk to us!