I’ve saved someone from drowning before. I saved two people, actually. I was surfing a nice, clean north swell in South Beach, Miami, when two muscular fellas decided to swim out into a raging riptide. They were quite built, which means they were going down quick.

I quickly paddled over to the two guys and told them to grab onto my board (one of them puked up a bunch of saltwater on my deck) and signaled over to another surfer nearby to help me get the dudes to shore. They were lucky I was there and, I suppose, I was lucky to have my wits about me. But, I am not sure what I would have done if one or both of them had fallen below the surface and blacked out.

This scenario has played out for a number of surfers. In fact, studies show that surfers are often the first responders on the scene of drownings or other beachside injuries. But are we sure we know what to do?

Enter Dr. Andrew Schmidt and other fellow doctors from UF Health. They launched Surf Med Jax, a local offshoot of the worldwide organization Surfing Medicine International, a certified medical association that, according to their website, envisions every surfer as an ambassador for health and environment. Dr. Schmidt has participated in the global conferences, gleaning vital tools and training to bring back to his hometown of Jacksonville.

Dr. Sean McAlister teaching CPR

“Surf Jax Med is focused on getting the non-medically trained individual to learn how to offer vital aid in situations of drownings, bleeding and administering splints,” Dr. Schmidt says. “As surfers, it’s pretty important that we can administer CPR and take action if we see injury at the beach.”

Surf Jax Med is the only physician run course offered in the USA, led by a team of seven local doctors and physician’s assistant. “We are delivering Surf Medicine: 101 as an extension of wilderness medicine, which is defined by any medical treatment delivered in an austere environment,” Dr. Schmidt says.

World Surf Medicine Conference, Newquay September 2018

The course focuses on four main topics that encompass general surf or swimming injuries: drowning/CPR, severe allergic reactions, severe hemorrhaging and tourniquets. Dr. Schmidt shares that the course, which he has delivered in Portugal, France and Australia before, will be adapted to the local home break. “We don’t have rocks, per se, but we certainly have shark bites and rip currents. We do most of the work in the classroom and then head down to the beach for some on site training,” he says.

“Every day, we hear about someone dying while trying to save another person in the water. This course teaches folks how to use what’s there around them to help and treat victims of injury,” Dr. Schmidt says. “In order to help, we’ve even developed a Surf First Aid app to get folks the knowledge they need in time of emergency.”

The app is simply a tool, Dr. Schmidt emphasizes, that helps support the course, which will be offered again on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at the Jacksonville Beach Life Guard station at 2 Ocean Front North. The course is free, but will be capped a yet to be determined number of participant to facilitate robust instruction.

“This is about getting the knowledge into the minds and hands of those that are there, on site, to apply it,” Dr. Schmidt says.

To register, go to www.SurfMedJax.com.