About SoS

The Science of the Surf (SOS) is an educational program for the general public designed to reduce the number of drownings and injuries on our beaches.

About SoS

Image of large wave
Image:Tim Scott

The fundamental philosophy of the program is that aside from only swimming where there are lifeguards and/or beach flags, the best way to stay safe at the beach is to actually understand how beaches, waves and currents work.

You don't cross the street without looking both ways and you shouldn't go in the water without checking it out before you go out! But you need to know what to look for…

It's a big challenge, but the goal of SOS is to educate coastal and rural communities, families, schools and domestic and international tourists about the surf in a fun and fascinating way so that everyone has a safe visit to the beach. Nothing's impossible.

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Why do we need SOS?

Image:Rob Brander

Far too many people drown or get injured on beaches. Most drowning are due to rip currents. There are over 11,000 beaches in Australia and at any given time there are approximately 17,000 rip currents. Given that only 4% of Australian beaches are patrolled by lifeguards (and the vast majority of those are seasonal), it's not surprising that approximately 50 people drown in rip currents every year. In fact, 90% of the 25,000 surf rescues each year are rip related. And it's not just an Australian problem. It's estimated that over 100 people drown in rips in the United States. Lifeguards cannot be everywhere and we really need to educate people about how the surf works.

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History of SOS

SOS was initiated as a visually powerful and entertaining community presentation conducted at Tamarama Beach in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 2001 by Dr Rob Brander of the University of New South Wales. Rob is a coastal geomorphologist with expertise in rip currents and is also a member of the Tamarama Beach Surf Life Saving Club. After questioning people rescued in rip currents, most answered that they didn't know they were in a rip, nor did they know what a rip current was! This disturbing trend was the prime motivation for giving the presentations and they have been held each summer since 2001 around Sydney and beyond. Over 5,000 people have seen the talk and it has won numerous community safety awards and become increasingly popular. Many of the presentations held at beach venues include a release of purple dye into the rip current. People seem to like (and remember) the dye!

Image:Rob Brander
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Educational Stuff

In December 2008, UNSW TV worked with SOS to develop a YouTube video called 'Don't Get Sucked in by the Rip'. This 4 minute video on rip currents has been massively successful reaching 150,000 views in January 2011. It has been linked and incorporated to websites around the world and won a prestigious Australian National Safer Communities Award in 2009.

SOS has also developed fact sheets, a rip current poster, a rip current survival dvd, and much more educational material that is freely available to the public and downloadable from this website.

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How can you help SOS?

Sponsorship, sponsorship, sponsorship. Beach and surf safety education takes time, money and considerable resources.To date, SOS presentations have only been given in New South Wales to local communities and schools. SOS needs funding and it doesn't necessarily need a lot. Whether it's federal, local government, business or individual sponsorship, use your contacts to drum up support and sponsor a visit to your local school or beach community by the Science of the Surf.

Contact SOS if you'd like to be a sponsor or can suggest some sources of sponsorship.

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Who is Dr Rip? (Doctor Rip)

Dr Rob Brander is a coastal geomorphologist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, NSW, Australia. He has been studying beaches and surf zones for 20 years having completed a BSc and MSc at the University of Toronto where Canadian water temperatures convinced him to live in Australia. His PhD on the morphodynamics of rip currents was completed at the University of Sydney in 1997. He has published over 20 articles based on his research on rip currents, coral reef-islands, and the 2004 tsunami and has taught at UNSW since 2000. More »

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