This surf guard tower looked over Lovekin Rock before being torn down after Parks Canada ended the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s surf guard program in 2012. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Dramatic rescue renews pleas to bring lifeguards back to B.C. beach popular for surfers

2012 Parks Canada budget cuts led to dropping of 40-year-old surf guard program

A dramatic rescue at Lovekin Rock last month has renewed local cries to restore the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s surf guard program.

Three 13-year-olds became stranded on the rock, located within the Park Reserve’s popular Long Beach unit, on the afternoon of March 26. Two of them were able to swim back to shore safely, but the third remained on the rock.

The stranded teen was joined by three more as two 13 year-olds and a 16 year-old were boogie boarding in the area and became stuck on the rock as they were unable to navigate through the rising tides.

A 911 call was made and the Canadian Coast Guard arrived on scene, but determined the sea was too rough to approach the rock by boat, so a helicopter was called in to lift the four teens to safety.

WATCH: 442 Squadron rescue operation at Long Beach, Tofino

READ MORE: Four stranded by surging seas on a rock off Long Beach

All involved escaped without serious injuries, but the incident has once again highlighted the dangers of Lovekin, which was the scene of two fatal ocean incidents last year.

University of Victoria student Nijin John died at the rock after a surfing incident on Feb. 10 and Ann Wittenberg, 52, of Ottawa died in an ocean accident just hours before her daughter’s wedding in Tofino in May.

Near tragedies have also been recorded around Lovekin, including a July incident where local paddleboarder Mario Chartrand rescued two stranded tourists off the rock.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Woman who died in ocean accident near Tofino was in town for daughter’s wedding

READ MORE: Man dies in surfing accident on Long Beach near Tofino

READ MORE: Ucluelet paddle boarder calls for lifeguards on Long Beach after rescue at Lovekin Rock

A $29 million budget cut to Parks Canada in 2012 led the Park Reserve to shut down a surf guard program that had been in place for roughly 40 years and included lifeguards looking over Lovekin Rock from a nearby surf guard tower.

The tower has since been torn down and signs have been installed warning beachgoers that there are no lifeguards on duty.

Following March 26’s rescue, West Coast resident Justin Merk launched a petition on April 3 calling on the government to reinstate the surf guard program. It received 486 signatures within 24 hours of being posted. The petition can be found here.

One of the people supporting the petition is Ann Wittenberg’s daughter Victoria Orr.

“100% I think a surf guard is needed there,” Orr told the Westerly News on Thursday. “I’m so happy Justin started this petition, and included me and my sister in it.

If this can prevent just one accident, I think it is worth it. I never want anyone to go through what our family did.”

Merk told the Westerly that he spent roughly four years as a surf instructor and often witnessed visitors playing around the rock unaware of its dangers.

“To an untrained eye or a newcomer, you would think that it’s safe at Lovekin Rock. Often the water is calm, the waves are breaking on either side of the rock,” he said. “It’s also beautiful. It’s probably one of the most iconic spots of Long Beach, but that’s the danger spot and that’s where one of the guard towers used to be.”

EDITORIAL: Restore the Surf Guard program at Long Beach

He added that the spot is also popular among experienced surfers, who might be giving visitors a false sense of safety.

“We’ve nicknamed it the chair lift. It pulls us out behind the rip and we’re ready to catch a wave, and if that’s not your intention you’re in big trouble man,” he said.

“A person can enter danger within seconds of stepping into the water. They can be ankle deep and get swept away. The currents that occur in front of the rock are not like the currents that happen anywhere else on Long Beach…

“You could be completely safe if you’re 20 feet south of the rock or 20 feet north of the rock, but there’s that one area that it’s so strong and once you step in there’s no turning back unless you get rescued. The rip will pull you straight out behind the rock.”

Merk himself was involved in a rescue in 2016 when he saw two young kids wade into the ocean about waist deep and get pulled in.

“The father tried to be a hero and jumped in after them with no wetsuit and as he was swimming toward them he overshot and he was now further behind the rock than the two kids and he couldn’t reach his kids,” Merk recalled.

“I immediately stopped my lesson, grabbed my board and paddled out…It was quite traumatizing for me and a lot of that came back up hearing about the recent [March 26] rescue.”

He added that many local beachgoers have similar rescue stories and that Parks Canada is relying too heavily on bystanders without the proper training or equipment to conduct rescues with no surf guard program in place.

“If you look at all the incidences it initially falls into the hands of the visitors and the beachgoers and the surf community,” he said. “Surf instructors aren’t lifeguards, bottom line.”

The West Coast made a similar plea to Parks Canada to restore the surf guard program last year, but Parks Canada has consistently maintained that the program does not fit with the area’s evolving “water recreation practices.”

In an email to the Westerly News, a Parks Canada spokesperson reiterated the same comments given in response to Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns call for the surf guard program to be restored last year.

READ MORE: Courtenay-Alberni MP calls for lifeguards at popular surf spot near Tofino

“While surfing used to be centralized around a small area of Long Beach, primarily during peak summer months, now surfing is common over a wide area stretching from Ucluelet’s Mussel Beach, through the Long Beach Unit, and into Tofino’s North Chesterman Beach. Surfing is also more of a year round sport now,” the spokesperson wrote.

“Since it is not feasible to provide Surf Guard services over such a dispersed area and throughout the year, Parks Canada has partnered with Ucluelet and Tofino to raise awareness of water hazards through the CoastSmart program. CoastSmart not only addresses surfing but other activities such as storm watching and beach walking.”

READ MORE: CoastSmart campaign kicks off in Tofino, Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Merk suggested the educational signage installed at local beaches as part of the CoastSmart program are helpful, but aren’t enough.

“A sign can’t save a life. I’m sorry.” he said. “I think what CoastSmart is doing is great, but until we have eyes on the beach and bodies ready to perform emergencies along with the proper safety equipment, which I think is also critical, having signs isn’t enough.”

READ MORE: Behest of the West: Bring back the surf guard tower



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Rick Hansen Secondary School student died in hospital after suffering a medical incident in class on Monday. (File photo)
Abbotsford student dies after medical incident in class

Rick Hansen Secondary School offering additional counselling for students who require it

Stock photo
$93,000 in COVID-19 emergency support available to Abbotsford charities

Applications now open for grants through community foundation

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

The Rotary Club of Chilliwack Book Sale is moves from the Chilliwack Mall to allow for physical distancing. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress file)
Rotary Book Sale moves from Chilliwack Mall to Heritage Park

The hugely-popular book sale is going ahead Oct. 25-31 with pandemic protocols in place

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan arrives at Luxton Hall to cast their votes in advance polls for the provincial election in Langford, B.C., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Pandemic election prompts voter suppression claims by B.C. Liberals

‘These emergencies require in us a maturity that has been lacking in politics for so long’

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Officers with the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team were at a White Rock home Tuesday (Oct. 20) to assist Vancouver Police Department with execution of a search warrant. (Contributed photo)
ERT, VPD response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A past extreme weather response shelter set up for women inside Surrey’s Nightshift Street Ministries. (Photo: Chris Paul/nightshiftministries.org)
Homeless people in Surrey face ‘shocking and scary’ scenario this winter

Last winter there were nine Extreme Weather Response shelters in all of Surrey and White Rock. So far, during this pandemic, there are only five lined up for the coming winter

Most Read