Surf Medic

· Professional,Lived Experience

Words by Owen Smith


In July last year, I was fortunate enough to return to the tropical Fijian island of Namotu, to undertake the role of “Surf Medic” for the week.

Namotu is made up of a small sand bar in the Mamucca Island Chain off the Nadi Coast and is surrounded by some of the best surfing and water spots in the world. The island can accommodate up to thirty (30) guests, with roughly the same number of staff, and caters to all kinds of extreme water sports. The guests come from all over the world to this exclusive surfing resort and stay for a week at a time. As with many extreme water sports, the weather and swells determine the activity, from big wave surfing offshore at Cloudbreak, to relaxing longboarding in front of the island. Visitors can also try stand up paddleboarding in the lagoon and surf foiling on high tide. When the wind blows, the kites and windsurfers come out. The island really is paradise.

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The role of the surf medic ranges from basic primary health assessments to managing cuts, stings or envenomation’s from the water. Throughout the week the roster is 24/7 on call, in order to support the guests, staff and lifeguards. The days start before dawn and finish late in the evening. There is a small medical room that has been restocked from previous medics, which covers basic medications, wound management and basic resuscitative abilities. As the nearest hospital is 15 minute flight or 45 minute boat ride, the medic is required to provide up to the first hour of care from time of injury.

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The surf medic role involves a preventative medicine side in encouraging the local staff to keep healthy and maintain good hygiene practices including healthy eating decisions, exercise, and regularly checks of their blood pressure.

Most of the medical care is managing reef and other skin cuts. Due to the tropical location and warm water, it is very easy for wounds to become infected with prolonged sea water exposure. Feet get cut daily as no one wears shoes and people spend the day walking on white sand infused with coral.

During this particular week I wasn’t expecting huge surf, so I took a bodyboard with me. This played into my favour when one of the guests also had a bodyboard. He was a businessman who was there with his wife and daughter – who both surfed quite well. He had never quite mastered the art of bodyboarding but refused to give up. As the designated surf medic, water safety was also a responsibility of mine so I paddled over to him in the line up to see how he was doing and have some general chat.

Over time, I watched him struggling to get into the right position and ‘read the surf’. The other lifeguards don’t really bodyboard (their loss) and so they didn’t know where to position him or how to instruct him. I figured it was part of my role so I remained close and work with him to position him correctly and get him on the waves. As the week progressed, we became friends, and I would continue to help him out in the surf and help him understand when the surf was going to be best.

By the end of the week, he was happy, smiling and singing in the surf. He had a much better understanding of the surf and where to be, so was, for the most part, able to catch and ride his own waves and recover himself when he wiped out.

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On one of the final days, my businessman friend and his wife came up to thank me for my help in and around the water and couldn’t wait to continue using their new skills back home. It goes to show that the role of a remote medic requires having extra skills and being a generally good human on top of being medically trained can bring with it broader job opportunities and new friendships. I remember thinking to myself - “I was basically a professional bodyboard instructor this week!”, but unfortunately, I had to go back to my other “real job” for the other 51 weeks of the year.


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Photo credits @beaupilgrim