Surfer issues safety plea

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One of Northern Ireland’s best known surfers has warned of the hidden dangers many beaches pose — particularly a coastal ‘blackspot’ near Portballintrae where an 11-year-old girl died.

Big wave surfer Al Mennie has urged people visiting beaches on the north coast this summer to ask local surfers for advice about the current water conditions before taking a risk.

Al issued the safety plea after the death of 11-year-old Bethany Cousins who got into trouble in a dangerous stretch of water off the Antrim coast.

The renowned wave chaser said surfers along the north coast, including himself, have to “rescue people from the water all the time”.

Al said he had to rescue two children in trouble on the same stretch of beach just recently.

He said: “Even on the calmest of days, many beaches can be dangerous.

“In fact, on days when the waves are bigger, it seems to keep people on the beach. On some beaches, conditions can change every 10 minutes. If local surfers see this happening we try to get people out of the water as soon as possible.”

The record-breaking sportsman said surfers consider beaches around Portballintrae as “the biggest blackspots”.

“It’s a westerly facing beach that attracts quite stormy surf and the sand moves a lot, creating holes and dips,” he said.

“This is the spot where most people end up being rescued by surfers.

“Many local surfers have spent their lives on these beaches, yet in the past when we’ve approached swimmers about dangerous water conditions they’ve been quite dismissive of us.

“I intend to start a campaign called ‘Ask a Surfer’, which implies just that. I want people to remember that local surfers are here to help.”

Independent unionist MLA for East Londonderry David McClarty backed Al’s plea. He said: “I would call on anyone using the water to seek advice from people such as the local surfers.

”Coleraine Council employs lifeguards on our more popular beaches where they use flagged swimming areas, but outside of those areas people should seek advice from experienced surfers with good knowledge of those waters.”