The Dangerous Holiday Part Two – Nick Carroll

27 Jul 2018 12 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: Potts/The Perfect Wave

Photo: Potts/The Perfect Wave

When it comes to safety in Indo, can anything realistically be done?

If you missed part one of Nick Carroll’s investigation into safety in Indonesia, catch up here.

Rod Steele is an old Indo hand. He runs a resort on the Javanese mainland called Istana Ombak, and figured he had most things covered: good set-up, comfort, food, and a couple of good reefs out front.

Then late one arvo, he and his guests heard screaming coming from the lineup. “It was a guy from another camp and he’d dislocated his shoulder,” says Rod. Among Rod’s guests was a surfer named Jake Casey, and fortunately, Jake wasn’t just a surfer. He’d spent seven years in the Army, doing Special Ops medical evacuations in places like Afghanistan.

Knowing nobody’s life was in danger, Jake watched the situation unfold for a brief period, then when it became clear nobody knew what to do, he stepped in and re-set the shoulder joint. Rod was a bit stunned: “Suddenly it went from the guy yelling in pain to being like nothing had happened,” he says. Rod has since hired Jake, who now runs a safety training business, to train him and others at his resort in CPR and first aid and to help supply support gear.

CW has heard numerous stories like this over the past month. It seems like the classic pattern: resort or boat owner, living the dream and keen to share it with guests, gets a sudden wake-up call and takes action to safeguard his set-up.

Fortunately, none of Rod’s guests paid a higher price — though he told us he recently had to try to rescue three Indonesian members of a film crew shooting an ad who were swept out in a rip. He got one, but the other two drowned. Next week the same film crew came back to shoot more footage on site. “You die, you die. There’s just not the same respect for life here,” he says.

But should surf camps be waiting for that wake-up call — especially in light of the changing face of the surf tourism market, and the slightly horrendous injury toll of the past?

We asked experienced resort people, first aid trainers with knowledge of Indo, and the Surfing Doctors organisation what they thought resort and boat operators could do to better prepare for the risk of guest injury. Here’s what their advice came down to:

Get your guides trained in rescue, CPR and first aid — don’t wait for the worst. This can be tricky for some operators, says Aable Training’s Gavan Clark: “You’ve got to do it in the off-season, when there’s time, but then the guides tend to scatter, head off in different directions.” But the alternative — hiring only qualified lifeguards and paramedics as guides — might be even trickier.

Get a defibrillator. Some people we talked with were cautious about recommending this, since the little boxes are exy things — $2000 or more. But you’d have to weigh the cost against the fact that if someone has a major heart attack or drowns on site, almost nothing else you can do will help save the person’s life. Defibrillators are super easy to use and the batteries last up to five years, longer in some cases.

Have an evacuation plan — don’t hope for the best.

Let people know you have an act. Down the track, there’s a good chance safety will become more of a factor in people’s choice of resort or boat — if not necessarily due to the traveller’s concern, then the concerns of his or her family members.

Work together. Some resorts have begun talking about forming regional networks to help firm up evacuation plans and do deals with insurance companies. For now, in the absence of much in the way of official assistance, this might be the only option.


Unless you have personal knowledge of the resort or boat, book through a reputable surf travel agent. It won’t guarantee your safety, but at least you’ll know the place you’re going has passed some checks. And if you do end up in a Medevac situation, a good agent will help make that happen and help keep everyone informed.

Get good travel insurance. This is a must. It should cover medical evacuation from remote places (many insurance policies only work within 25 kilometres of a significant town) and should have no cap on medical expenses. Pay the extra. A good agent will make you do this in any case.

Do your homework — make sure you know how prepared (or not) your resort or boat operator is in case of an emergency, or just a small injury for that matter. Can they pull off a medical evacuation in a crisis? The way things are at present, your research and your choice will come back to you, not to them.

Take your own stuff. A simple but useful first aid kit can be found at many pharmacies or online. Surf travel agents often stock kits; they’ll happily point you to one of the numerous surf first aid kits available from various websites. Expect to pay $60 to $80 for a good one.


Stay hydrated. This is a big one for surfers coming from a cool Aussie winter straight into equatorial climes. Beer won’t do it. Drink a lot of water, especially early in the day before you do too much surfing, and when you’re not in the water, stay out of the sun.

Listen to the guides. A lot of injuries happen when surfers overstep their limits in unfamiliar surfing territory. A good guide knows when to encourage a client and when to advise discretion. Don’t do something you know you can’t do just because someone else on your trip can do it — or worse, because your mates egg you on.

Most of all: make it an issue. Let booking agents, resorts, charters, owners and guides know that a critical incident safety net is part of your trip decision and really matters to you. Everyone we’d talked with during research for this series told us they thought the main factor in change will prove to be customer pressure. The more surfers demand better crisis care on trips, the more resorts and charters will feel encouraged to provide it.

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