Surfing And A Duty Of Care
By Tim Fuller | 12 September 2012
Brazilian W.C.T stalwart Raoni Monterio seconds before getting his season wiped by injury at Cloudbreak, fiji Volcom Pro. Pic: ASP
The National Rugby League in Australia has placed the issue of duty of care to its player’s front and centre with its recent decision to ban players from re-entering the field of play if they have suffered a form of head trauma. The decision shines the spotlight on the duty of care that clubs and sporting bodies owe to the participants in their various sports. With rugby league being a brutal, contact sport, it could be said that the move by the NRL is a proactive measure to increase player welfare. It could be further suggested that the NRL is safeguarding themselves against any possible future legal claims that could arise if no action was taken.
What does this mean for surfing? Does a duty of care hold any relevance for surfers and organisers of the sport? The simple answer is a resounding yes! The recent Volcom Fiji Pro is a classic case in point. Massive surf combined with a northerly wind at Cloudbreak created conditions bordering on the extreme. Aussie surfer Kai Otton rated the waves as the heaviest he had stumped up against in a comp! Contest director Matt Wilson presided over two heats before pulling the pin on the competition for the day. Despite split opinion over the decision from fans and the competition surfers, the ASP pulled the right rein - absolutely.
Kai Otton on that same fatful day at Cloudbreak Raoni was injured. Pic: ASP
Surf rage is another problematic challenge for surfers everywhere. Does a duty of care exist between fellow surfers at anytime? In my opinion, a duty of care does exist – both in and out of competition. This position taken is based on what the Courts have determined with incidents involving conflict between sportspeople, both at training and in competition. Let’s look at dropping in – been a part of surfing forever and a day and most surfers kind of wear it without too much agro. Recent times and the overcrowding of the best points in Oz have led to heated confrontations and open warfare between surfers. Deliberate, calculated dropping in on a wave that leads to physical injury could potentially led to legal action one day with the victim suing the culprit for negligence. Accidents will always happen but dropping in with an aim to cause injury is one club that surfers should leave in the bag!
It’s a bummer to realise that the law and the severe consequences that can accompany a legal decision are a part of surfing – make no mistake that they are. Being a surfer means you have responsibilities and obligations to other surfers, comp organisers and other personnel in the industry and sport. No-one is being a killjoy here and a little bit of information on understanding the concept of a duty of care is worth tucking away in your scone for future times.
Tim Fuller is a lawyer who writes on sports law issues